There's a bunch of animals at the zoo made out of ocean garbage
"Sebastian James the Puffin" is one of 17 of her works of art that Angela Pozzi has installed at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. As she stood beside it, she talked about the puffin's namesake. She created the work the same year her father James died.
"He's very dignified like my dad," Pozzi says of the puffin. It stands on a base of entangled fishing gear. It is just the type that claims the lives of many ocean birds. The birds often fatally mistake plastic trash for food. These details are noted on a label beside the sculpture.
Pozzi's artwork is made completely out of trash. She and her team retrieved it from West Coast beaches. As she spoke, Pozzi spotted litter on the ground. It was a discarded food tray. She tossed it into a recycling bin.
In Pozzi's sculptures, viewers can make out everything. From flip-flops, toothbrushes and eyeglasses to microwaves, pails and shovels. You can even see car keys. The works have their feet firmly planted in two worlds. They are both environmental activism and art.
A sculptor who created artworks from discarded New York trash is Louise Nevelson. She is an inspiration for Pozzi.
Pozzi also owns prints by two other favorite artists, Dr. Seuss and Alexander Calder. Like the two, Pozzi creates art that is both serious and playful.
"It has to be good art. Or else it won't do the message," she said on a tour of the works. The tour took place a few days before the exhibition opened. The show is called, "Washed Ashore: Art to Save The Sea." It's at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. The zoo is in Washington. The works are on view until Sept. 5.
Despite the nature of the materials, Pozzi and her team at the Washed Ashore project achieve a remarkable and convincing array of textures. The feathers suggested around the puffin's eyes and on his chest lend it a distinguished look. The puffin also has an astonishing naturalism.
Pozzi considers her past. She sees a logical progression from her childhood to the art she makes today.
"Ever since I was a small child, I would get excited about when the toothpaste started getting empty," she says. "I would get to have the toothpaste lid on top. (I'd) turn it into a little cup for my trolls. I've always looked at repurposing supplies."
She didn't think of the repurposing then in environmental terms. But today, she says while standing in front of a fish she made of plastics, scientists applaud her work. It has an ability to raise awareness, they say. It happens in a way that the scientists can't.
"I need to reach inside of people," Pozzi says. That doesn't mean doing away with scientific facts. "But you have to grab them. And you have to make them care and you have to get their attention."
On the scientific side, the scope of the problem is enormous. The exhibition reflects on the more than 315 billion pounds of plastics that litter oceans. This is according to a release from the zoo. The announcement refers to the pollution as the ocean's deadliest predator. Trash.
Mary Hagedorn is a Smithsonian marine biologist and senior research scientist. She works at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute. She is using fertility clinic techniques used for humans to save coral reefs.
Coral reefs are being threatened globally by surging ocean temperatures. The coral are not only animals, but they also are habitats.
"They are very complicated biologically," Hagedorn says. She notes that coral reefs have some of the most restrictive reproductive schedules of any animals. The vast majority of coral species only reproduce once a year, for two to three days. If coral stays bleached too long, it can throw off an already delicately balanced reproductive process.
Hagedorn says coral already contributes $350 billion a year to the global economy. She sees promise in the "kind of chemical warfare" that the species use. They fight one another as they compete for light (as trees do).
"These antimicrobials are going to be really important in terms of our future pharmaceutical actions," she said. "They're a lot more than just a pretty face."
For Pozzi, the pretty faces of at-risk ocean life are made of objects that were irresponsibly discarded. It happened precisely because they were thought to have outlived their usefulness. In her sculptures, however, they experience a transformation. And Pozzi just sees the scale of her project growing and growing. (Mike Rowe, of "Dirty Jobs" and "Somebody's Gotta Do It" fame, spent an hour with the Washed Ashore team recently for a show. "He goofs around and he's silly. But he was really serious with us," Pozzi says. She noted that Rowe picked a boot for the penguin sculpture's bottom.)
"I've always thought that this should be a global project," she said. "We've created, in six years, 66 sculptures out of about 18 tons of garbage that just came ashore in a 300-mile stretch. And it's only just a few people picking it up. What if we got people around the world picking up garbage?"