CULTURE & ARTS
12/02/2015 11:01 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2015

Tragically Beautiful Exhibit Shows How Our Oceans Suffer

"Some plastic had been in the sea and under the hot sun so long, it turned to powder when I touched it."

Sophie Thomas/RSA

In Hawaii, "Never turn your back on the ocean" is a common adage -- a warning for anyone who visits the beach. But when Sophie Thomas, a London-based designer, visited the remote Kamilo Beach on Hawaii's Big Island in 2014, the phrase took on new meaning. Thomas couldn't keep her eyes off the devastatingly littered shores.

"Everywhere you looked, plastic was present, deep in the fabric of the beach and seemingly almost impossible to extract," Thomas, director of Circular Economy at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London and founder of the Great Recovery Project, told The Huffington Post in an email.

The experience inspired her latest art exhibit, "Never Turn Your Back On The Ocean," a collection of mixed media pieces that debuted at Pentagram's Design Studio in London on Nov. 18 and is on display at the RSA until Friday, Dec. 4.

Sophie Thomas/RSA

After collecting whatever trash she could carry with her, Thomas turned the debris into various designs that she hoped would challenge designers to rethink the way they view and use plastics.

Thomas sorted pieces of trash into simple yet striking color schemes to show the potential for beauty. For example, deteriorated toothbrushes, bristles in tact, are lined against a faded pastel purple. Another collection of bright plastic shards and a deconstructed razor are striking over a clean white slate. Thomas also created several sculptural box studies, photographs and letterpress prints made with waste ink and the plastic particles and garbage she collected during her trip.

"There were snatches of words on bottles bleached by the sun -- flotsam poetry," she said of her discoveries on Kamilo Beach. "Some plastic had been in the sea and under the hot sun so long, it turned to powder when I touched it."

Thomas's exhibit was featured as a part of RSA's Great Recovery Project, which aims to "turn waste into value and reduce environmental impacts through system thinking." 

Sophie Thomas/RSA

Kamilo Beach is known locally in Hawaii as Trash Beach. It is considered one of the dirtiest beaches in the world, where man-made garbage and plastic debris from all over the Pacific wash up on the shore, sent from massive rotating vortexes of trash controlled by the ocean's currents. So much plastic has collected on Kamilo's shores that a new type of plastic-infused stone was even identified there, resulting in a permanent marker in Earth's geologic record. 

"The islands of Hawaii are extraordinary, diverse and incredibly beautiful, but their beautiful beaches see the results of this global plastic waste tragedy wash up onto their shores every day on every tide," Thomas explained.

Thomas hopes her exhibit shows other designers the value in reimagining the plastic products we discard almost every day.

"The solution to this truly global challenge must be to tackle the problem at its source," she said. "I want to see a global movement to redefine how we use plastic and begin to value it better so that we stop using it once then throwing it away."

  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA
  • Sophie Thomas/RSA

 

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