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Mandy Barker

Sea of Artifacts

Hero Image for Mandy Barker

Sea of Artifacts will open at Fotografiska on World Oceans Day, 8 June, and run until 25 August.

With great commitment to the environment, Mandy Barker (b. 1964) from Hull, England, originally began by photographing plastic waste on beaches, but no one took any notice. So instead she started creating beautiful artworks from the plastic waste she gathered, photographing them in all their glory. Suddenly, she’d managed to reach out with her urgent message of the need for change: We all need to realise the dangers of this plastic. How it’s destroying our natural world with all its fauna and flora in so many ways, including by being eaten when mistaken for food. How plastic never disappears, but instead is simply broken down into smaller and smaller pieces – microplastics that find their way into our bodies in the food that we eat.

The old adage, what goes around comes around, has never been truer.

Barker is a unique photographer and activist

According to estimates, more than eight million tonnes of plastics are dumped into our oceans every year. Everything from clothes and bags to furniture and toys end up in the water, with heavier plastics sinking to the bottom while the rest float on the surface. Some of this plastic waste is carried by currents to add to a large mass forming in the Pacific Ocean. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this huge amount of suspended plastic covers an area greater than three times the size of France and sits between Hawaii and California.

Plastic waste washing up on beaches around the world is a familiar sight to anyone who’s ever walked along the water’s edge, but the threat posed by plastic is so much greater than that seen by the naked eye. The accumulated impact of microplastic particles finding their way into the planet’s food chains is not yet known.

“My role is a kind of interpreter, one with facts and insight into just how dangerous the plastics found in the sea are and with the ability to present this knowledge in an easily accessible form. The more I learn from research, the more determined I become to work to create awareness that change is necessary,” says Barker.

Barker is a unique photographer and activist, thanks to her artistry and collaboration with not only marine biologists on expeditions, but also the general public and various environmental organisations. They are striving to draw attention to this natural disaster affecting us all: Countless future generations will be affected by all the plastic waste polluting our oceans.
Even the world’s oceanic trenches have become homes to plastic waste, with the plastic bags found in the deepest of them, the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, at a depth of 11,034 metres providing just one example. A place where scientists also found that every amphipod captured had at least one plastic fiber in its stomach.

“Our mission is to always contribute to a more conscious world. With the Baltic Sea as our nearest neighbour, we hope that this exhibition will make more people more aware of the dangers that the plastics in our oceans pose to the planet... ”
...What’s more, we want to offer our visitors the chance to learn from Barker’s valuable insights into what we can all do to help to make a difference, says Lisa Hydén, Exhibition Manager, Fotografiska Stockholm.

featuring 47 of her works from six different series

We cannot possibly comprehend the consequences of this plastic pollution for our planet, and the need to highlight the problem is overwhelmingly pressing. And this is what we’re now doing with Barker’s exhibition, Sea of Artifacts, at Fotografiska, featuring 47 of her works from six different series opening at World Oceans Day 8th June:

Indefinite (waste found along a coastline that, in terms of shapes, is reminiscent of oceanic life and shows the continual degradation into microplastics).
Hong Kong Soup: 1826 (Over 1,826 tonnes of municipal plastic waste was going into landfill EVERY DAY in Hong Kong).
Beyond Drifting (how microplastic can destroy the natural balance, with Barker creating plankton organism’s from plastic objects).

Penalty (following a request in social media, over a period of four months Barker received 992 different balls/parts of balls found and collected by members of the public).

Shoal (plastic recovered from the tsunami between Japan and Hawaii) and Soup are included.

Photographs portray objects that Barker found when out collecting plastics in various locations around the world and then used to create her works. Works made from everything from doll arms and plastic bags through footballs and shoe laces to pieces of clothing and plastic flowers.

All artifacts from the sea, manufactured objects, plastic products that become microplastics and continue to threaten our planet. What goes around comes around…

At the Playa de Barlovento beach in Lanzarote, Barker found a music cassette tape from the 1990s, which she had restored. The cassette and the playlist will be displayed at the exhibition hall at Fotografiska.

Here we are also offered good advice on how we can all follow in Barker’s footsteps, to help to reduce waste and change our behaviour.

“First and foremost, I consider myself a photographer rather than an activist. My artistic mission is to translate research and statistical evidence into photographs that are contextually relevant and move people to strive for change,” says Barker.

Through her photography, Barker helps us to do this with great effect. Our initial reaction is to the absolute beauty of the images, until the realisation hits us of what we are actually looking at: A plastic Armageddon.

”In regards to scientists now believing it can be as much as ‘x20 times more plastic in the sea then we have known before’, goes to show that shocking discoveries are continually being made, and that we really do not know enough about the problem – much more research needs to be done, especially into the effects of marine plastic can affect human health”.