- Barbara Marshall Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
From a distance, Priscilla shimmers in shades of turquoise, blue and orange, just like a parrotfish should.
The large-scale 1,600-pound sculpture, with its Margaritaville colors, seems lighthearted, floating above what looks like a tropical reef, placed against a bower of flowering plants at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach.
Move closer, however, and admiration turns to horror.
What appeared to be pretty painted tiles along her colorful flanks are grotesque bits of trash. Fishing lures. Bright, broken bits of discarded children’s toys. Pieces of patio chairs and re-purposed parts of crab pots and Styrofoam buoys. And is that a bowling pin?
Priscilla and nine other large-scale whimsical sculptures on display at the public garden were fashioned from bits and pieces of debris, mostly plastic, found fouling beaches in Oregon, where artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi lives.
Called “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” the exhibit demonstrates the depth and scale of humans’ trashy ways.
But instead of hitting viewers with grim visions of the plastic infesting the world’s ocean, Pozzi and her crews of artists and salvagers prefer to slyly amaze, even amuse, then shock.
“We try to make the sculptures beautiful from a distance and horrifying close up,” said Pozzi. “That’s the whole idea. It’s important to show people that what they use in their daily lives sometimes ends up in the ocean.”
Volunteers collect, clean and sort the debris, which is sometimes cut into various shapes or strung together, in the case of plastic water bottles, to create jellyfish tentacles or frothy ocean “waves” in a method Pozzi calls “foam kebabs.” Other than the screws holding the pieces together, nothing is painted. The debris appears on the sculptures as is looked littering the beaches.
Since 2010, the non-profit Washed Ashore organization Pozzi started has created 70 works of art from 21 tons of debris removed from just her state’s beaches.
Sebastian James, the Puffin is a statue of the black marine bird made from cut pieces of vehicle tires.
Much of Lidia the Seal is created from lids that once sealed various kinds of containers.
“Lidia named for lids, get it?” said Pozzi.
Flash the Marlin’s gills were once a toilet seat.
A few of the sculptures are interactive, such as Musical Seaweed, whose playable tambourine “leaves” were made from plastic pallets and chairs, strung with bottle caps and aluminum can pull tabs.
Tug on the turquoise nylon rope on Water Bottle Jelly, and the kinetic sculpture of a jelly fish twirls, its tentacles flying outward. Although the sculpture was made almost entirely from water bottles, its tentacles are made from a more specific kind of trash: dozens of strung-together water bottles from the 2008 Beijing Olympics retrieved from Oregon’s sands.
At least 4.8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, according to 2015 research from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Twenty countries were deemed responsible for 83 percent of it. China was the worst offender; the U.S. ranked 20th.
As a result, giant trashbergs of nearly indestructible plastic circulate around the world, steered by ocean currents known as gyres.
Japan’s 2011 tsunami sucked massive quantities of all kinds of debris into the Pacific, where much of it eventually ran aground on west coast beaches. Pozzi and her volunteers used anything that wasn’t toxic.
“We were seeing gigantic rafts of fiberglass insulation, which was one thing we couldn’t use,” she said. “We use just about everything else.”
Many marine creatures eat the decomposing plastic, which harms wildlife and introduces plastic toxins to the world’s food supplies. Sea turtles often die after mistaking plastic bags for their favorite food of jelly fish.
“We create these sculptures to teach people about the problem,” said Pozzi.
A lifelong artist and art teacher, Washed Ashore began after Pozzi’s husband died in 2004. She moved to the southern Oregon beach town of Bandon to try to recover from heartbreak.
“The beach has always been my sacred place,” said Pozzi. “I was broken, so I walked the beach every day as a kind of therapy.”
She was stunned at the amount of flotsam snagged in the wrack line on beaches known for being cleaner than most.
“I came to the ocean for healing and found an ocean that needed healing,” said Pozzi. “I though, if I could help save the ocean, maybe my life would be worth living again.”
As a former art teacher who taught with little or no budget for supplies, she knew how to make art from whatever she could scrounge.
The bags of garbage she collected eventually became sculptures exhibited at Sea World parks, the United Nations, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as well as aquariums in Chicago and New Orleans and the San Francisco Zoo.
Now happily re-married, she travels around the country, installing her sculptures in shows. Pozzi would like to start Washed Ashore satellite locations in other ocean-flanked states, including Florida.
Pozzi hopes that her art will open viewers to her larger message, which is that consumers need to be more critical about what products they purchase. She maintains that recycling, while important, isn’t the answer to keeping plastic out of the oceans.
“Consumers need to know they have a vote every time they pull something off a grocery store shelf,” Pozzi said. “Every time you do, you’re voting for a company to make more of what you’re buying.”
If you want to see fewer items packaged in plastic, she says, buy fewer of them.