Turning pollution into art


Have you ever heard of the Common Plastic Fish, which dates back to the mid-1990s?

Local fisherman had described it as being “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface”.

Some witnesses said it has “dinosaur like features with large teeth and big claws”.

If you haven’t, that’s probably because it was only created on Thursday May 19 by two UCT third year students. They created this new fish out of plastic they collected from the beaches in Sea Point in a hope to create awareness on plastic pollution in the ocean.

Alexandra Britz from Vredehoek and Caroline du Toit, who lives in the CBD, said they wanted to use art to create a message.

Ms Du Toit said the project was a huge process and it took a few weeks for it to come together.

“It was a long process of what was important to us and what we wanted to make the public aware of. I think we are very happy with the end result and we’ve also learnt a lot along the way.”

Mr Britz added: “It has been something that I’ve been interested in for a long time. Growing up I always spent a lot of time at the sea and always had a deep connection with the ocean. I spent the last four years sailing in the Mediterranean. One of the most common things we see in the ocean was plastic and I found that quite disturbing. When I went to the Mediterranean I found it very disturbing how small the fish were in the supermarket and how little fish there were.”

She said another disturbing thing was whales who were being washed up with plastic in their stomachs and this motivated her throughout the project.

“I really love and respect the ocean so it is something that’s been on my mind for a long time, but I didn’t know how to make a change.

“Some plastic lasts for thousands of years and one of the things that has been killing sea life is microplastics (which are usually smaller than 1mm). You can’t even see it, it is so small.”

Ms Britz said that the idea was not about being preachy or blaming anyone, it was just being aware of simple things like drinking tap water and not bottled water. Bottle caps and straws are two of the biggest problems on the ocean. It’s an awareness thing and I didn’t know that until I start this project.”

Ms Du Toit said when they started picking up the plastic and realised how much of it was there, it began to sink in just how much plastic was in every day products.

“We use water bottles and disposable plastics which can’t really be used again. I feel like companies are just completely ignorant. With no ocean there is no life and it is vital to the ecology system. There must be a continuous goal to reduce plastic pollution and we should have started it 50 years ago.”

She added that as fine art students they feel the main purpose of art is to reach audiences.

“We feel like it is a great way to create awareness.”

One of the parts of the project was a live interactive performance which took place on the Sea Point Promenade last week.

“Plastic pollution is becoming an increasing problem and artists want to use (art) to touch people in creative ways. We created a new species of fish, adding some of the scariest elements from ocean.”

They also created a scientific analysis of the species, how old they got and how big they grow (unmeasurable). They also created a myth around the species, with the aim of making it as real as possible. Ms Du Toit added that her father, who was very into sustainable farming, has always been interested and conscious about the environment.

Ms Britz said one of the things about galleries was that sometimes they were alienating.

“With environmental iss- ues it is not necessarily going to get to the broader audience. It is about engaging with the public and there is a very big social part when it comes to environmental intervention.”

The pair hope the project can be an ongoing one and they hope to create the issue of plastic pollution through art and education. They also said they chose the Sea Point Promenade becuase it was a central place, with a lot of art and people there.