Working along a single stretch of coast in Mexico's Sian Ka'an refuge and world heritage site, installation artist and photographer Alejandro Durán identifies plastic waste from individual countries (more than 50 have been identified) and creates beautiful, if disquieting trash-scapes that examine the coalescence of humanity's debris with wild, ever more vulnerable places. Durán will give a talk at 516 Arts on Thursday, June 30, at 6pm on the predicament of ocean pollution through the lens of Washed Up and the surreal wreckage he paints, arranges and photographs.
Alibi: When did the idea strike you to work with trash and what some might call undesirable subjects?
Durán: The inspiration to work with the trash came from seeing the situation in Sian Ka’an first hand. After my initial disgust at seeing the garbage strewn beach, I began to see the colorful pieces of trash and started to arrange them by color and form. After taking a test photograph, I knew that I would need to return to work on a series of installations and photographs.
Durán will give a talk at 516 Arts on Thursday, June 30, at 6pm on the predicament of ocean pollution through the lens of Washed Up and the surreal wreckage he paints, arranges and photographs.
What was the actual process of working with refuse like? Did you have health concerns? Were there necessary precautions?
Collecting the garbage is an arduous task. The main thing that you have to be careful with are the bottles that have liquid still in them. You never know what nasty stuff is lurking inside them.
How can art illuminate big topics like consumerism and environmental degradation? How do you hope looking at your photographs will impact viewers?
I believe that my work can lure people in through the aesthetic nature of the arrangements and then get them to think more deeply about the context. Many people have said that they feel both the beauty and the horror of these images, and that is the intention.
Were there moments during the project that you felt especially connected to the environment?
On my first trip to start the project, we were camping for the majority of the time and we dealt with torrential downpours and blazing heat. Getting used to existing in that environment makes me feel more connected to it.
Did you find it disheartening or sad to surround yourself with the evidence of such negative human impacts?
There have been many times when I have felt overwhelmed and powerless when seeing the condition of the beach in Sian Ka’an. Earlier this year I saw a stretch of coast that was particularly nasty, and I found myself screaming at the world. If anybody would have seen me they would have thought I was crazy but it was a necessary catharsis.
What ideas have inspired or challenged you lately?
I continue to work with objects that people discard. I always have many ideas but the challenge is to figure out which ideas to focus on and turn into the next cohesive project. That’s what I’m working on now.