I’m interested in water and the different pathways it takes. Not only the recognizable flow of rivers and glaciers, or global currents of air and sea water, but the obscure shifts of water from one state to another or across cell membranes. I’ve been tracing water pathways and their stories while developing ways to create environments as art installations.
I was given the opportunity to mount my first installation, Catch of the Day, at the Contemporary Art Museum in Mazatlán, Mexico. The exhibition consists of a 45 x 7 meters suspended fishing net. Woven into the net is a school of plastic fish and plastic water bottles with notes inside of them. A series of 11 monoprints hangs on the wall and at the entrance there are 10 wooden boxes containing children’s toys accompanied by lost and missing posters. Catch of the Day opened March 15 and runs until May 11, 2018.
Catch of the day is derivative of the work I started at an artist residency in Rota, on the southern coast of Spain. My objective during this residency was to investigate how the tide could leave marks on paper. This was to be an extension of work I started in Ireland but I soon realized my plan was physically impossible. What I did instead was start a deep listening practice. For 2 months, just before sunrise, I walked the beach for several hours documenting the tideline marks and collecting plastic and other shoreline flotsam.
In effect, each tideline is a drawing, telling the story of that day’s tides through the marks on the sand and what has washed up on shore. I discovered that the variety and abundance of plastic landing on the world’s shorelines is astounding. Each day’s harvest was strangely and inexplicably unique, revealing plastic toy shovels one day, bottle caps, colorful plastic straws, and cutlery the next. For an entire week I witnessed lines of persistent oily brown foam, which was suddenly replaced by huge amounts of white Styrofoam that disintegrated and flew along the length of the beach. Some items became buried in the sand or pushed further away from the water line with successively higher tides, but most of the garbage was carried away by the wind or returned to the water, in an endless cycle. When clothing and shoes tangled in bits of fishing nets appeared I was alarmed enough to speak to the authorities about the possibility of refugees capsizing in boats offshore. But I was assured that the currents and the refugees’ countries of origin made it almost impossible for this to be the case.
Day after day I returned to the tideline while researching current marine ecology issues. This led me from plastics and global dumping of refuse to over-fishing, habitat destruction, changes in salinity, and dead zones. I discovered that despite the many innovative solutions that are being developed to mitigate our destruction, the problems we have created are massive and seem beyond our capacity to repair.
In Mexico, I began to look at the situation from another point of view. What if a collective of creatures such as whales, seahorses, and coelacanths decided they were fed up with humanity using their homes as dumping grounds or with their fellow tuna being overfished – creatures fed up with the toxic waste, the thoughtless plundering of resources, the accumulation of garbage, and total disregard for sea life on this planet of water? This Ocean Administration would be comprised of the Departments of Plastics, Human Relations, Toxic Waste, Lost Objects, General Neglect (to name a few), and would address the issues, sending messages back to us in our own discarded plastic bottles. This became the first component of the exhibition Catch of the Day and I included eight letters from various departments of Ocean Management. Each letter is signed by one of the ancient sea goddesses, stamped with the Ocean Management crest and suspended throughout the fishing net for people to discover.
Also interwoven in the net are schools of plastic fish that I created using a technique developed by Canadian artist Laurel Paluck, which involves ironing plastic bags together to create “ocean leather” fish, beautiful and tough.
We often overlook that plastic degrades in the ocean, becoming a particle soup almost impossible to clean up. Microscopic filaments are ingested by microscopic creatures, which are in turn eaten by larger invertebrates and so on. The chemicals (and the plastic) bio-accumulates and since we eat the largest fish in the food chain, we ingest more plastic/chemicals than we know.
I wanted to reinforce this idea so I included a tray of gelatinous fish-shaped h’or doers at the opening reception that had people wondering “What exactly did I just eat?”
Another component of the exhibition is a series of 10 “precious” boxes containing intact children’s toys that I found washed up on the beach in Spain. (See photo at the top.) Lost and missing posters that depict these toys as precious objects accompany the boxes, alluding to the fact that if we took better care of our things, perhaps we wouldn’t lose or discard them. Our thoughtlessness leads to more consumerism.
The final element of the show is a line of 11 monoprints mounted side by side on the wall behind the fishing net. These multi-layered pieces start in the light blues of the shoreline, and gradually get darker as we move towards the ocean depths. The last two monoprints feature images of plankton and the shadow of a coelacanth rendered with glow in the dark ink. The monoprints represent the intricacy and beauty of nature, reinforcing the interconnectedness of all life. Ironically the viewer cannot get very close to this work because the net is blocking their way.
I was heartened by the many conversations I had during the installation and exhibition opening, often referring to a collective consciousness about how we exist in this world and what we leave behind for future generations. My aim is always to walk people through an environment with the hope of raising awareness and posing questions from different perspectives. I believe that humanity has the capacity to make change as long as there is a clear direction and the public and political will to support it.
I am grateful to all of the individuals who helped me during my research and hanging of the exhibition. Special thanks to Cecilia Sánchez Duarte, Director of the Museo de Arte de Mazatlán, for her vision, and to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel support.
Joyce Majiski’s work examines connection to place within a context of global environmental concerns. Past careers as a biologist and wilderness guide and several artistic residencies have taken her to remote wild places contributing to her artistic practice. Moving between wilderness and urban landscapes, she seeks out connections between these environments and how humans live and find connection within them. Joyce’s North of Myth exhibition travelled to Finland, Sweden, and Northern Ireland. Her current investigations about water have been exhibited in Spain and Mazatlán, Mexico. She lives in the Yukon
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.