Galaxies of Trash: Tsunami Beach Debris as Art

Children’s toys seem to float in space like lost debris from a ship carrying unlikely cargo in this series of striking images by artist Mandy Barker. It’s actually debris from the tsunami in Japan that devastated the nation in the form of floods and nuclear disaster, collected in the ocean and on beaches and organized into collages.

The effects of the tsunami will be felt for centuries, and the spread of trash that was picked up and carried into the Pacific Ocean by the waves is just one way in which the disaster had a serious and lasting environmental impact. Barker found the items while sailing across the debris field in the Pacific Ocean, picking them up with trawls and nets between Japan and Hawaii.

Some of the items are sobering reminders of the lives lost, like children’s shoes, coat hangers and fully-laced adult boots. Others are almost too symbolic to bear, like a child’s toy gun stamped ‘Made in Japan.’

Barker takes a single item or group of items and reproduces them digitally in scenes based on the swimming and navigation patterns of the species of fish that are ultimately the most affected by the spread of this trash. Collaging the reproductions calls attention to the scale of the disaster both in lives lost and in the amount of plastic that ended up in the ocean.

“The unidentified plastic particles seem to represent people, and similarities are seen in the plastics collected; a piece of bad like a face, styrofoam life bone, a twisted bottleneck like a flower, a plastic tag like a butterfly,” says Barker. “A reminder of life from retrieved pieces, not only from what objects they have been, and where they have come from, but more importantly from whom they belonged.’”

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