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Monument, 2017
Three panels, oil on wood; 52" x 73"; glass, plastic and diverse materials; wood

monument    Monument, detail

The installation Monument is a meditation on the state of our oceans. It features a triptych and an altar with an offering of plastic debris gleaned on the beaches of the American west coast. A white shark’s jaws – a relic – are painted on panels hanging over the altar. Jellyfish float in the space around the jaws.

I began collecting plastic trash in 2012, at San Diego’s North Ponto. I picked up a disturbing array of plastic and other man-made items included drinking straws, fishhooks and lead sinkers, a plastic tube filled with a glow-in-the-dark substance and a peeled baseball. Fishermen landed a baby white shark, then threw it back since “we can’t eat it anyway”. I felt I was on the right track with this project.

During several consecutive summers I visited the beaches and surf spots of my youth. I found plastic toys and bottles every time, along with the occasional flip-flop.

A friend took me to the La Jolla Ecological Reserve to dive with leopard sharks on my birthday. I found many items in and around the water, including a red plastic flag and a ping-pong ball. A sea-kayaking trip in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary yielded more plastic trash and a black Styrofoam meat container.

My first visit to famed big-wave spot Maverick’s, in Half Moon Bay, was shrouded in fog. Descansos marking the demise of several unlucky surfers lined the cliffs. An endangered California condor circled overhead – an incredible gift. Plastic was found on the beach and floating in the rocky pools of this forbidding place.

But here is the twist: my plastic collects have diminished, year by year. I found almost nothing in 2017. As the Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to expand and plastic debris proliferates on the world’s beaches, the last California beaches that I visited were clean. This gives me hope. Monument is designed to help people wake up. I believe that the choice to act with foresight and compassion is not only necessary, but also possible, and the option of a cleaner future is real. In some places, it’s happening now.

© Anne Ashton 2011-2022