A community clean-up in Indonesia has become an ongoing work of art that turns trash into treasure. Marine scientist Skye Moret, data visualization specialist Moritz Stefaner, and artist Liina Klauss have created a “data sculpture” on a beach in Bali — made up of almost 5,000 pieces of actual trash — as a way to illustrate what happens to plastic once it enters the global waste stream.
The environmental impact of plastic is well-known. If not recycled, it pollutes our neighborhoods, oceans, and the world around us. With this work, the trio hopes to illustrate how we use and misuse plastic, where it goes, and where it ultimately ends up (most times, in the ocean).
Color coding the trash into categories further emphasizes how humans misuse plastics. The white portion of the sculpture in particular shows that first-use plastics are discarded a whopping 60 percent of the time, whether in landfills, unmanaged in the overall landscape of our planet, or by making its inevitable journey into our oceans.
But that’s not the only data visible on the sculpture. There are also other colors that represent the complicated journey that plastics often take through our global waste stream. For example, green represents recycled plastics, red represents incinerated plastics, and blue shows plastics still in use. The width of each stream is proportionate to its statistical number, but it’s the black stream that’s truly the most alarming here, as it’s meant to reflect all the plastic ever produced since 1950: a whopping 8.3 billion metric tons, all for human use and consumption.
By using plastic collected by 50 volunteers on the Bali beach with the goal of finding the appropriate colors, the creators hoped to shift perspectives. Rather than collecting garbage, they were meant to be collecting and curating the pieces with the goal of taking “creative action.” As artist Liina Klauss (one of the three masterminds behind the project) says, “Science gives us new knowledge about the world. Art gives us new perspectives how to see the world. [And] merging the two has tremendous power.”
Klauss began the vision for the impactful sculpture about ten years ago, in 2011. When she was living in Hong Kong, she gained a deeper understanding of how plastic pollution impacts our planet, and how statement-making art can build awareness. Making Indonesia her second home only served as a catalyst for ultimately producing this colorfully impactful piece on the beach in Bali.
The latest sculpture is just one of the many pieces Klauss has created in the intervening decade, effectively turning “rubbish into rainbows.” On her coastal walks, she has found everything from medical waste to refrigerators washed up on the beach, using all of it in her more than 50 art installations across Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan. All are colorful and use the beach as a canvas — the perfect way to illustrate how plastic devastates our coasts, our oceans, and our planet.
Klauss says, “All over the world on remote beaches, plastic pollution has become insane normality or normal insanity.” By creating her sculptures, she hopes to raise awareness and change people’s perceptions — and maybe even their habits. Look for Klauss’ “Perpetual Plastic” on the big screen when it debuts later this year as a short film by director Eric Ebner.