Brigette Baker

Permanent Transition

Senior Project April 2015


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Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd, South
Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565
(239) 590-1000 or (800) 590-3428

Plastic is part of our lives: we protect ourselves from injury with it, we build our furniture out of it, we wrap our food in it, and once we use it, we throw it away. Today scientists estimate that there are more than five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, which is more plastic than there are human beings on the planet. Ocean plastic collects in large patches called “gyres” and within these floating islands of plastic scientists have discovered bacteria and eukaryotes colonizing and living on the plastic itself. Although the death of marine life from ocean plastic is well documented, it is not yet known how these plastic dwelling microbes will affect the ocean in the future. It is interesting to imagine a new ecosystem emerging from our disposable culture, and this is the basis of my project. We have dumped trash into the oceans for years, now it is starting to become part of the marine ecosystems and the future is undetermined. Transition occurs over time and although the plastic may not disappear it will change, and the ocean will change with it.

I began this project with daily walks on a quarter mile stretch of beach north of Doctor’s Pass collecting bottle caps, straws, broken toys and any other type of trash that washed on to shore for 99 days. This timeline was significant to me, as it was the amount of time I spent with my father last year from the day he was diagnosed with cancer to the day he passed away. I wanted to take back that traumatizing time and repurpose that energy towards something positive and healing. As I walked the beach and collected trash, I observed how the environment around me changed and recorded my notes in a journal. Through my notes and research I discovered how powerful the ocean is and how quickly it can change a landscape whether made of sand or plastic. This transition became the focus of my project as I began to wonder more and more about the changes taking place in the very same water I walked alongside each day.

In order to document this omnipresent trash that is permanently altering our world’s oceans I combined both natural materials such as seaweeds and corals, with man-made materials such as plastics. My intention was to create a glimpse of how one might witness or study these emerging underwater landscapes in the midst of transition. For my installation I have created four different elements: 1.Versus Series, specimen racks of seaweeds and small bits of plastic placed side by side to show the separation of organic and inorganic as the seaweed degrades and the plastic remains unaltered. 2. New Reef Series, sculptural examples that show how our coral reefs might look while in their transformative state of combined plastic and natural coral. 3. New Growth Series, groupings of petri dishes filled with agar and found plastic to see how one might study the plastic colonizing microbes. 4. Microbial Discoveries Series, collograph prints made from plates using the trash I found on the beach to imagine what one would find under a microscope looking at the different colonies of bacteria found on ocean plastic. Together they form a kind of natural history museum depicting the present and future of our transitioning ocean.