Visiting “Beyond Drifting”, a Photographic Exhibition

– by Alicia Mateos Cárdenas –

Mandy Barker is an award winning British photographer whose artwork in marine plastic debris has received worldwide recognition. Her aim is “to engage with, and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction and social awareness”

On the 27th of May I visited Cobh, Co. Cork, to attend Mandy Barker’s opening talk for her photography exhibition “Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals” which was displayed at the Sirius Arts Centre. I very much enjoyed the afternoon learning more about Mandy Barker’s career and her art philosophy as well as meeting like-minded people. Her exhibition was displayed in Cobh from the 27th of May to the 2nd of July 2017. For those of you who would like to know what happened on the day, I have put some pictures together with my notes below. I hope you learn something new!

First Dr Tom Doyle (School of Natural Sciences NUI, Galway) introduced us to the life of John Vaughan Thompson, a pioneer planktologist, and some of the discoveries he made in Cobh and Cork Harbour during the 1800’s.

During his voyages, John Vaughan Thompson became amazed by marine bioluminescence so he developed a net to sample the surface of the water. This tool is also known as a “plankton net”, which was used by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle. This plankton net is currently used not only to catch plankton but to sample microplastics in oceans, rivers and lakes.

Dr Tom Doyle presenting an image of plastics in Cork Harbour

Dr Tom Doyle with a recent photo of Cork harbour, surely John Vaughan Thompson would find more than plankton today

Dr Tom Doyle also brought a microscope and some plankton samples. So at the end of the session I got a chance to see some copepods, which are small crustacean plankton species, as well as other plankton species known to be able to ingest microplastics.

Following this talk, Mandy Barker introduced us to her life journey, artistic philosophy, and previous work, which involves photographing plastic recovered from beaches around the world.

The awarded series of photographs called “Indefinite” consists of ten photos of unwashed and unaltered objects found polluting sea shores. Mandy decided to mimic the shape of marine organisms that are harmed by marine debris, using those found objects.

TOP RIGHT 1 – 3 Years (Plastic Bag – A person uses a plastic bag for an average of 12 minutes before disposal. When a bag enters the sea suffocation or entanglement may occur but ingestion is the main issue. Sea turtles often mistake bags for their favourite food of jelly fish and squid when seen floating in the water column).
LEFT 30 Years (PVC – Corals are destroyed when discarded fishing equipment, such as overalls, gloves, damaged lobster pots and nets drag along the ocean floor. Coral reefs provide home for lots of species, most of which are also affected).
BELOW RIGHT 600 Years (Monofilament & Macrofilament Fishing Line – Fishing line affects the mobility of aquatic animals, once entangled they struggle to eat, breathe and swim, all of which have fatal results. Discarded fishing nets cut loose by fishermen continue ‘ghost fishing’, indiscriminately sweeping up fish, seals, turtles and whales in their foul web).

However, her most awarded work to date is called “Soup”. Mandy told us that “Soup” was inspired by the North Pacific Garbage Patch (or “plastic soup”), which is known to accumulate large amounts of fragments of plastics suspended in the oceanic surface. “Soup” is presented as a book of eleven recipes where plastics are presented as the ingredients in each image.

LEFT “Refused”. Ingredients; marine plastic debris affected by the chewing & attempted ingestion by animals. Includes; toothpaste tube. Additives; teeth from animals.
RIGHT “Ruinous Remembrance”. Ingredients; plastic flowers, leaves, stems & fishing line. Additives; bones, skulls feathers & fish.

Finally, she presented her new work and book “Beyond Drifting. Imperfectly Known Animals”. The work was inspired by John Vaughan Thompson’s publications on his discoveries of plankton, and follows their ‘old-school’ style. Mandy shows her “new specimens” created from objects collected from sea shores. With this work she wanted to present plastic pollution and the degradation of the environment by simulating scientific discoveries of new species.

Cover of “Beyond Drifting. Imperfectly Known Animals” I was amazed by the antique look of the book!

When you open the book it really takes you on a journey back to the past, as if you were reading the notes of a scientist describing the species he/she had discovered. However, the topic is very up to date since plastics are currently found in almost every water body in the planet.

More photos from the exhibition:

TOP Maprola stipicros. Specimen collected from Inch Beach, Cove of Cork, Ireland. (Plastic bottle parts)
BOTTOM Copeopod langisticus. Specimen collected from Roche’s Point, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Six pack plastic yoke)

A display board from Plymouth University with some photos from their published work on microplastic pollution

If you would like to have a look at the book, a review can be found here:

Photo-eye Book Review – Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals