Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Delicate art reflects our fragile oceans

Works made from objects found in waterways comment on our roles as marine guardians, says creator.
Lianne Edwards has created 11 artworks from rubbish collected by Sea Cleaners founder Hayden Smith.
Lianne Edwards has created 11 artworks from rubbish collected by Sea Cleaners founder Hayden Smith.

A strip club's dollar notes are among articles of rubbish collected from Auckland's waterways that have been turned into works of art.

The discarded Showgirls' "money" bills - used to pay for strips and private lap dances at the Customs St East venue - have been given a second life in the Still (Marine) Life exhibition.

The exhibition features works from Nelson-based artist Lianne Edwards and Captain Hayden Smith, founder of marine litter collection company Sea Cleaners. Smith was recently named 2017 Local Hero at the recent Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.

Its 11 ethereal-looking artworks are delicately crafted by Edwards from rubbish collected by Smith while out on the Waitemata and Manukau harbours and surrounding seas.

The Showgirls money - often dropped outside the club and washed into nearby drains and out to sea - have been cut into a delicate mandala. Other works feature plastic sticks from children's lollipops, plastic beads, soy sauce bottles shaped like fish, milk bottles and parking tickets.

Despite growing knowledge about the damage rubbish, especially plastic, causes sea life, Smith said more of us must start reducing the amount we use and take more care disposing of it.

"You name it and we've probably found it," says Smith, who has seen countless marine creatures feeding on plastic because it is bound up with other food sources

"You can pretty much do anything to plastic and you won't destroy it. If every one of us just picked up one piece of rubbish a day, it would make a big difference."

The Government announced last month that cosmetic products containing tiny plastic particles known as microbeads would be banned in July next year because of concerns about their impact on the marine environment.

This week, pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson said it will no longer have plastic handles on its cotton buds to prevent toxic waste reaching waterways and seas.

Edwards - who worked in marine conservation before becoming an artist - has also created art work out of stainless steel bird leg-bands, marine surveys, resin, fish scales and brass along with material found in the stomachs of sea birds, including a T-shirt.

Calling it The Mantle Series, she says it reflects the fragility of marine environments and our role in protecting it. She has long had an interest in the natural world and the place of humans within it.

Meanwhile, since founding Sea Cleaners in 2002, Smith has co-ordinated the removal of about 3.7 million litres of rubbish from Auckland and Northland waters.

"I'd like to say it's getting better and there are signs that it is," he says. "When we started, wharf managers used to talk about the 'Waiheke raft' and say you could almost walk across the harbour to the island because there was so much rubbish.

"A lot of that's been eliminated now but we've got to stay on top of it and keeping up with it is an endless task."

Sea Cleaners has three rubbish collection boats and is about to gain a fourth.

Smith's determination to raise awareness saw him travel to the North Pacific gyre (it's an ocean current system) which is filled with rubbish.

He's also visited numerous school, community and volunteer groups to talk about the issue, but says the world of contemporary art galleries is new to him.

"But it's another way to get people talking and to put the issue in front of them."

Still (Marine) Life is on at Whitespace Gallery in Ponsonby until Sunday, March 12.

- NZ Herald

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