You Dirty Beach: English Seaside Gets Eco Message

How often do we really think about all of the garbage that’s lurking on our beaches? Even if the sand itself looks clean, the chances are that there is all sorts of industrial and commercial waste under the surface. Artists Lou McCurdy and Chloe Hanks teamed up for the 2009 Brighton Fringe Festival to call attention to the problem of worldwide polluted beaches. McCurdy focused her attention on transforming plastic litter into beautiful works of art, while Hanks used eco-friendly paint to create temporary, thought-provoking graffiti.

Lou McCurdy previously won attention for her “More Plastic than Plankton” project, and she brought the same Earth-conscious mentality to the Dirty Beach Exhibition. She gathered bits of plastic, fishing nets, ropes and other pieces of litter from the beach and turned them into richly textured, brightly colored wall panels.

The panels illustrate just how permanent the plastic litter is, now one tossed bottle can exist nearly forever. And the vast majority of the litter that’s floating around in our oceans or creating an eyesore on the beach won’t be lucky enough to be picked up and made into lovely artwork; it’ll be in the waste stream for hundreds of years.

Graphic designer Chloe Hanks took a slightly different approach to the project. Rather than using materials that would last forever and ever, she meant for her images to be gone within a few days. She used natural methods to leave graffiti messages all over Brighton. The above graffiti was painted on with homemade, biodegradable paint. The small pieces play on familiar seaside imagery and funny sayings to call attention to the real problem of sea pollution. And by using the signature “Hanksy,” the artist plays on the name of England’s best-known graffiti artist, Banksy.

These two messages were left in prominent tourist areas and were, of course, designed to be impermanent. The first shows a group of single-use plastic items and the words “Weapons of Mass Production,” a reference to the overwhelming number of plastic items which are simply thrown away after one use. These cups, straws, bags and other pieces of trash often end up polluting streets, oceans and beaches. The second piece, which was made by stripping algae and lichen from a rock, bears the term “mermaid’s tears.” While they may sound beautiful, “mermaid tears” is the term used to describe tiny pieces of plastic that float around in the ocean and end up on beaches – either pre-production pellets or small, broken-down pieces of former plastic products.

By painting the octagonal sea defences with red beetroot juice mix and filling them with pebbles from the beach, Hanks turned the beach into a temporary video game. She says about the piece: “Compared to levels in MCS Beachwatch 1994, the average density of litter ‘invading’ our beaches from in-shore and off-shore has risen by over 110%. Hopefully it’s not ‘game over.'” Although the Dirty Beach Exhibit is over now, you can still see the photographic evidence of these eco-friendly art pieces at the project’s website.