Plastic is all around us. From the clothing on our backs, to the devices in our hands, microplastics in our water and food supplies, or plastic refuse floating through our waterways.
Becoming immersed in plastic is the theme of a new artwork that has just been installed in the National Museum of Scotland.
In "Bottled Ocean 2123", Maori artist George Nuku reimagines the state of the oceans a century from now as a undersea landscape made of recycled plastic.
Nuku was assisted by 400 people in creating his plastic undersea grotto, including museum visitors, staff and volunteers from youth and community groups across Edinburgh.
The installation is due to be unveiled to the public next month in the exhibition, Rising Tide: Art and Environment in Oceania (12 August 2023 – 14 April 2024)
Artist George Nuku said:
“Plastic is a fascinating material. We think of it as new, with all the things we use it for. But, in fact, when you think about how it is made, from material created during the Earth’s ancient processes, that simple plastic bottle is in a way one of the oldest things around. And if you think about it that way, like an ancestor, then maybe you can start to think about treating it with respect instead of throwing it in the ocean. With the help of hundreds of local people, we’ve taken a pile of trash and made something beautiful.”
Groups involved in creating the artwork included the Welcoming, an Edinburgh based charity supporting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as students from Edinburgh College of Art and children from Granton Youth, and Pilton Youth and Children's Project.
Dr Ali Clark, Senior Curator Oceania and the Americas said:
“We’ve really enjoyed and appreciated working with George Nuku on the installation of Bottled Ocean 2123, and with the many local people and volunteers who have helped with its installation through our community outreach work. It makes a fantastic, thought-provoking artwork for the exhibition and we look forward to people’s reactions when it opens next month.”
The exhibition will look at humanity’s damaging relationship with planet Earth, with a particular focus on Australia and the Pacific Islands, which are most exposed to rising sea levels, due to climate change, and plastic waste.
Rising Tide will also host the first display in Europe of a set of five kimono which make up an artwork entitled Song of Samoa, by internationally renowned artist Yuki Kihara, newly acquired by National Museums Scotland with the support of Art Fund.
Examples include work by master fisherman Anthony C Guerrero, who uses historic weaving techniques to make contemporary baskets from plastic construction strapping that is found littering Guam.
The exhibition also features historical material from National Museums Scotland's collections, such as spear points from the Kimberley region of Western Australia made by Aboriginal men from discarded glass bottles. A recurring theme throughout the exhibition, these spear points demonstrate that Indigenous peoples in Oceania have always innovated, using materials found in their environment to make cultural objects.
Rising Tide: Art and Environment in Oceania is part of Edinburgh Art Festival, taking place between 11–27 August 2023.
The exhibition is supported by a programme of events including a series of morning curator tours in August which take place before the museum opens to the public.