Fascinated by the idea of marine algae providing the prime ingredient for a truly bio-degradable material that might help us move away from fossil fuel plastics, I decided to investigate making seaweed bio-plastic from the simple basic ingredients of seaweed, starch, water and glycerine.
It has been an intriguing and fun, if messy, process which has taken place across the year in my kitchen and in tents on shorelines with coastal community members in Cromarty and Poolewe during my World Ocean Day events, with the support of Fiona McKenzie (Aberdeen Science Centre) and The Pebble Trust.
I am now collating the polymer samples made using seven common seaweeds collected on our Highland shorelines and cataloguing our recipes. While our recipe notation was definitely a little sketchy the samples are intriguing, from the strong slightly flexible (brown) wrack recipe to the more translucent flexible recipes made from kelp (Oarwrack) and Himanthalia elongata (sea spaghetti)
I am hoping that these samples, along with my reference notes and observations will inspire more Highland Seaweed Bioplastic experimenting events. Please leave a message in the reply box below or email me if you are interested in joining me in future seaweed bioplastic events. And do get in touch if you have any funding ideas for events.
Taking up a great invitation to show my Climate Action exhibition L O S T as a part of the Portobello ArtWalk 2022 this month, I had the opportunity to install my #LitterCUBES within the historic Portobello Brick Kiln, set back from the seafront and the sandy beach where I’ve collected hundreds of washed up cotton bud-sticks, that went into the making of two of the smallest#LitterCUBES.
Working in alternative spaces such as the kiln, rather than in a gallery is always exciting and challenging.
The kiln’s small 5m diameter floor space was a logistic challenge in which to show the 18 CUBES, a projection screen and information. My chosen plan had #LitterCUBE 1 (drinks bottles) positioned in the centre of the kiln, with the other 7 largest CUBES set behind this CUBE around the wall directly behind it, ensuring space for visitors to move around the kiln.
The screen, being set above these CUBES and opposite the entrance, allowed passers-by to glimpse a view of the work and to cast a little light onto the CUBES.
By far the largest challenge was how to light the work well, in a space off-grid, that only has two restricted natural light sources, the chimney and doorway.
The chimney channelled a limited amount of light into the centre within a very small radius. The light, entering through the doorway, was extremely variable during the day. Often the space was very dark in the morning and then blasted with light in the early afternoon if the sun was bright.
I originally planned to use low wattage spot lights running off a 12v battery, but testing out the spots, the light gain was limited and the cabling was distracting and couldn’t be hidden.
After much discussion with the ArtWalk team who had seen work in the kiln before, I decided to embrace the low light, but to supplement it at significant points, using photographic lights and torches to highlight the work. Part of the lighting solution also came from the visitors using their phone torches, plus my LED solar and wind-up torches. This minimal battery-operated lighting worked amazingly well and kept the very special atmosphere of the kiln as a part of the visitors’ experience.
Wonderfully, over 200 people visited the exhibition over the two event days, 20 people managed to fit into the kiln to hear me sharing the journey of making the #LitterCUBES, and calculating the energy value held within the 18 #LitterCUBES using the ‘Embodied Energy content’ formula – 250 litres of oil. We went on to discuss how we are now (at last) getting more conscious of the importance and need to take #ClimateActions. Primarily to reduce the energy we use and how to do this we need to quantify the amount of energy that we use and waste. Also, our discussion made me want to try calculating the energy used in showing this collection of work over the 2 days, especially given the exhibition aim to show the energy LOST in plastic waste.
It is a calculation, which wasn’t feasible when showing the work in the large arts centre of Eden Court, Inverness, but it is a question that I am increasingly conscious and concerned about. With the help of friend and scientist John McIntyre we have calculated the Energy used in the Kiln during the 2day event to be: Total energy use 0.326 kWh
Below is our simple energy sum, with each item running for a total of 12hours
Mini projector used over 2 days 150 Wh
Photographic lights used over 2 days 150 Wh
LED torches (1) used 6 AA batteries in two days. So 6 x 3.12 = 18.72 Wh
LED torches (3) used 9 AAA batteries in two days. So6 x 1.2 = 7.2 Wh Total Watt Hours (Wh) used 150 + 150 + 18.72 + 7.2 = 326 Wh
Total 0.362 KWh
The equivalent of boiling just over 3.5 litres of water in an electric kettle.
The LOST exhibition is ready to be shown on or Off-Grid. Please help keep the #ClimateAction conversation going by sharing this post and getting in touch with any ideas of where LOST could be shown on or Off-Grid. I am happy to give talks about the project and run related events.
Many thanks for the support of Rosy Naylor, ArtWalk curator, additional photographs from Susan Grant and Ellie J McMasterand photo-editing by Veronica Vossen.
As the UK has been coping with wild fires, heat strokes and transport disruption this week as a result of the hottest days ever recorded, the link to the Climate Crisis is at last being acknowledged over 30 years on from scientists’ early warnings. The need for us to take action on the climate must surely be on everyone’s minds.
The 18 #LitterCUBES contained a collective energy value of over 250 litres of oil, and this was the starting point for impassioned presentations from Julien Moreau and Andy MacVicar from Plastic Recycling Projects in the Highlands, both highlighting the need to reduce the vast quantities of waste plastic we are generating and exporting across the world. They argued for working together to recycle our plastic in a decentralised way, close to the source (towns /beaches) to make products needed locally, which would in turn save energy and generate jobs.
On World Environment Day in June, (another very hot day) 40 people came together at my LOST exhibition at Eden Court, Inverness to see evidence of Plastic Waste (in this case marine Plastic Litter), one factor contributing to the #ClimateCrisis.
Event participants came up with masses of ideas for items which could be made out of recycled waste plastic including building materials, benches, planters, play equipment, seats, agricultural/garden materials and equipment and which in turn would contribute to creating a Highland Circular Economy.
Our final talk was by scientist John McIntyre, who gave a hard-hitting global overview on our Climate Crisis and the link to our energy consumption urging us to do less and use less! This proved a great starter to our brainstorming session. Event participants and visitors to the exhibition shared the Climate Actions they are taking and intend to take, the most common being recycling, using shared transport, growing food, buying more carefully e.g. second hand, recycled and locally produced goods.
A plea for more opportunities to share information about energy use and sustainable environment options was repeated and calls for each of us to tackle companies/governments and protest!
Our Ocean Plastic Skipping ropes on display,collaboratively made by Plastic@Bay, GreenHive and myself, ticked many of these boxes and proved a good example of the process of recycling plastics and a great break out opportunity for the afternoon and at the following World Ocean Day Events which took place on the Cromarty and Poolewe shorelines. During the events over 3,000 jumps were made – proving the draw that simple #Greenfitness activities can have and the fun that can be had without expending fossil fuels! read more
The MAKE – World Ocean Day events proved a great success with enthusiasm from the local Cromarty and Poolewe communities, including the Primary schools. The workshops were run by myself and Fiona McKenzie (Aberdeen Science Centre ) and began with thinking about the importance of the Oceans and reasons for looking after ocean environments and how Bio-plastics might help reduce the problem of Marine Plastic Litter.
Our central activity was a BIG SEAWEED EXPERIMENT with over 40 people joining in to mix and cook various types of seaweeds, setting agents (starch), plasticiser (glycerine/honey), and fibres such as wool, grasses, straw and linen to make a fascinating array of bio-plastic samples (results to follow on Instagram).
It was an extremely ambitious event, very messy and at times wet and cold, but it was great fun with observational seaweed activities – using microscopes and chrome books in the tent-labs
Head teacher Natalie White said that the “M A K E workshop was a really great piece of partnership work. The children really enjoyed experimenting making seaweed plastic and were inspired to make a brilliant video about the workshop.”
I feel the LOST #ClimateAction project is keeping the #COP26 #ClimateCrisis story moving forward here in the Highlands. In total over 300 people visited the exhibition and nearly 100 attended the LOST events, many of whom left positive responses for Art as a way of encouraging Activism.
Many new connections have been made and ideas set in motion for follow up events both here and further afield. Please get in touch if you know of any venues and funding that would help me tour the work.
The LOST exhibition artworks were made with the kind support of individuals through Crowd Funding, Project donations from Trusts: Schiehallion Group, Rag, JA Clerk, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership, North Light Arts, Easthaven Together. Company donations: Eyemouth Marine, Neighbourly TK Max, John Lawrie Group. In-Kind donations: Dunbar Harbour Trust, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Hippodrome, SPLASH, Shetland Marine College, JJ Jamieson, Shetland Museum & Archives, The Swan Trust, An Talla Solais, North Link Ferries. Grants: Arts & Business Grant (Shetland), Shetland Council.
Proud to be showing my LOST – Climate Action exhibition in the amazing Eden Court, Memorial Chapel, in Inverness. A collection of 18 #LitterCUBES, with film & prints to carry the Climate Crisis story on from COP26. The show is open everyday 10am-10pm. Please share and join in the Climate Action discussion by leaving a comment/question on @juliabartonartist or below.
Appreciative first comments:
‘Great Appropriate title‘. K Rann ‘I really liked the simplicity, which made the message clear-a good feel to the whole space’ J MacIntyre ‘The show is a fantastically vivid representation of the issue‘. C Drake ‘Great integrity to this exhibition‘ L Strachen ‘Your exhibition is so powerful – bloody well done!’ F Mackenzie
I am very pleased to be collaborating with Eden Court, Inverness with my new project, LOST. An immersive Climate Action Exhibition showing in the amazing space of the Memorial Chapel at Eden Court, Sunday May 15 – Sunday June 12 2022.
Eden Court and I are both keen that the exhibition and accompanying events will continue the COP26 #ClimateCrisis story in the Highlands. LOST aims to show how plastic pollution directly contributes to the Climate Crisis. The work will highlight the amount of lost energy that plastic marine litter represents and explain the unseen and often misunderstood links to fossil fuels.
RECYCLE:This Climate Action event will include an exhibition talk, explaining the recyclability of types of single use plastic and a presentation by Julien Moreau from Plastic@Bay, Durness will share their innovative idea for Decentralised Community Recycling in the Highlands.
Andy MacVicar from GreenHive, Nairn, will explain the useful recycle-ability of different types of single use plastics.
We will make a map of where each single use plastic items are likely to locate and concentrate in the world. Participants will be able to suggest and identify any products we need in the Highlands, that could be made from recycled plastic. Booking:
World Ocean Day Event: Wednesday June 8 Cromarty Cinema Beach 4-6pm
MAKE: My newest work explores the potential of making alternative polymer materials from sustainable seaweed. I will be leading an exciting hands-on workshop on the beach, encouraging people to experiment making bio-plastics from seaweed.
The exhibition and events are gratefully being supported by The Pebble Trust & Eden Court.
The LOST exhibition artworks were made with the kind support of individuals through Crowd Funding Project donations from Trusts: Schiehallion Group, Rag, JA Clerk, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership, North Light Arts, Easthaven Together. Company donations: Eyemouth Marine, Neighbourly TK Max, John Lawrie Group. In-Kind donations: Dunbar Harbour Trust, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Hippodrome, SPLASH, Shetland Marine College, JJ Jamieson, Shetland Museum & Archives, The Swan Trust, An Talla Solais, North Link Ferries. Grants: Arts & Business Grant (Shetland), Shetland Council.
Two years ago I was invited to devise a green fitness event for the annual ‘Ullapool Feel Good Festival’ which encourages people to stay fit by taking part in outdoor activity sessions. I came up with the idea of making skipping equipment out of discarded fishing ropes, a transformation which tells the Marine Plastic Litter [MPL] story in a new and engaging way.
Our recycling story starts on a cold, dull day at the beginning of winter 2020 with volunteers braving the elements on Ross-shire beaches to collect the fishing ropes and nets that are constantly washed up on shore. More was collected during the hot summer days of 2021. Between collecting the material and the event itself, much work was done sorting, washing, drying and cutting the ropes ready to cast into skipping rope handles.
A key development in the story was joining forces with Julien and Joan of Plastic@Bay, who helped research, design and test the metal mould to cast the handles, and helped find finance for the first phase of the project.
The next location in our story was the Green Hive Workshop in Nairn, where the casting took place, another inspiring community recycling project, where I collaborated with Andy and his volunteers to make the handles. 15 sets of handles were produced for the Festival which took place a year after the story began, with people having fun, skipping on the harbour slipways, in the streets and at school with our Ocean Jump Ropes recycled out of Marine Plastic Litter.
The circular economy message will continue with each jump and telling of the story behind the skipping ropes.
We have had many requests from people to buy the Ocean Plastic Jump Ropes. We hope to be able to make more ropes this year so please leave a message if you would like to know when they are available.
We have had many requests from people to buy the Ocean Plastic Jump Ropes. We are looking for funding to improve the mould and casting process (it’s not easy) so we can more ropes this year, so please leave a message if you would like to know when they are available or if you would like to support us. Follow the ‘Recycling to Stay Fit’ story and event pictures on Instagram @juliabartonartist
Reflection sequence of a line painting of my favourite seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum (knotted wrack) one of the most common seaweeds found on Isle Martin’s shoreline.
This temporary painting was made on the islands seawall to announce the Isle Martin Seaweed Festival, Scotland’s first seaweed festival, an event that I had the pleasure and challenge of curating. As with so many creative ideas the simplicity often belies the complexity of the process of making.
As challenging as it was painting between high tides and working from ladders positioned between rocks covered in Knotted wrack, it was one of the least stressful jobs of my role as Festival curator. While I have previously curated my own art installations and group exhibitions, curating a multidisciplined seaweed festival on a small island presented me with massive challenges.
One of the legacies of the Festival has been the training of local volunteers to identify common seaweeds. Eight trained local volunteers helped festival goers identify seaweeds on five local beaches, the majority of whom said they could now confidently identify at least four seaweeds correctly.
My idea to stage a festival focusing on seaweed began years ago while learning to identify seaweeds growing in the clear inshore waters of NW Scotland. My dream seemed straight forward enough, to share my passion for this remarkable ‘flora’ that seaweed represents. Like so many simple ideas it quietly grew as I collected marine litter and made artworks about marine plastic pollution. The idea then gained momentum when Visit Scotland announced funding for projects that would highlight Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters originally planned for 2020 but then rescheduled for 2021 with the #YCW2021
A small number of dedicated Isle Martin Trust members banded together with me, to form a dedicated Festival Working Party (FWP), and together we found most of the funding needed to stage our Festival, celebrating Isle Martin’s rich seaweed life with the aim of promoting awareness and knowledge of the richness and diversity of seaweed in our coastal waters.
The Isle Martin Seaweed Festival plan quickly grew and like the fronds of ‘knotted wrack’ branched out in many creative directions eventually intertwining scientists, artists, writers, archaeologists, historians, chefs, kayakers and sailors. Finding presenters, discussing their expertise and working out how their specialised seaweed knowledge might contribute and fit into our Festival, was definitely one of the most enjoyable tasks of curating. Having been immersed in a fascination with seaweed for years, I had collected many names of artists and writers also passionate about seaweed and had already established contacts with the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum. We quickly had an impressive list of guest presenters including Juliet Brodie, Miek Zwamborn, Jason Hall-Spencer and David Gange.
Equally impressive was our ability to showcase the work of local experts such as marine scientist Ailsa McLellan and ecologist John McIntyre both of whom are passionate about protecting the marine environment and seaweed, plus archaeologist Cathy Dagg and designer Sigi Whittle. Their presentations on the sustainability of seaweed and its global ecological importance set the bar high in the presentation tent, which was full with standing room only for many talks
The talks were programmed loosely into science and arts themed days, in order to appeal to different audiences and to aid discussions. This seemed to work and we had a full take up of 120 tickets each day on the island. Given the nervousness of people meeting in large groups after three lockdowns we see this as a great success! Ensuring visitors’ COVID safety was a high priority and keeping up to date with Scottish Government COVID advice and working out how we could fulfill their regulations took hundreds of hours of planning.
Seeing people come together to listen and engage in learning about seaweed and far-reaching marine environment conversations was heartening. Presentations also took place in the Big Kelp Tent which housed multiple artworks inspired by seaweed, produced in workshops in Ullapool and by Ullapool High School Pupils and visiting artists. Within this creative space we had a pop up ‘Gutweed Lab’ for examining seaweed under magnification and an installation of seaweed observation cylinders, all helping with seaweed identification. This was also happening on shorelines where volunteers helped people to understand the differences between knotted wrack, bladder wrack and twisted wrack.
Seaweed remained centre stage even in the food arena around the fire, with Jason Byles renowned Kiwi forager and chef from Fife, who demonstrated in a showman-like way, cooking with sea lettuce, dulce and peppered dulce, plus tasters and foraging tips. The Dabberlocks Café served up fair trade snacks with seaweed cake and the Paella Place kitchen served seafood and seaweed dishes.
Smiles were the order of the Festival days, so many people commenting on the friendly relaxed atmosphere, which was heartening especially given the changeable weather and the descending of midges at the end of the day.
The behind the scenes challenges that caused sleepless nights included how to keep the technical equipment dry in tents, not knowing if the internet connections would hold for scheduled ZOOM presentations, rejigging presentation schedule to avoid the midges in the late afternoon and how to ensure the safety of passengers disembarking onto the slipway at low tide each day. Overcoming all these things was only possible through the relentless hard work and support of the Festival Working Group consisting of John McIntyre, Lesley Strachan and Steve Twitchett, plus Martin Gilligan in the tech tent, the Lightfoot site crew working together with tens of volunteers and essentially the boat crews ferrying everyone across.
Curating this Festival has been exhausting, but it has also been a hugely rewarding and creatively stimulating experience that I am immensely proud to have initiated. As one Festival participant said talking about seaweed ‘the more you learn the more you realise there is so much more still to find out; this also applies to curating and facilitating a seaweed festival on an island!
So many people have asked when the next Seaweed Festival will take place and learning from our experience of September the first date to be mooted is May/June 2023 when we would benefit from longer days, it would be prime seaweed growing time and there would be fewer midges!
This week I am joining millions of people around the world to mark Earth Day, to demonstrate support and promote the protection of our environment. I regularly walk the coastal paths of Ross-shire exploring the shorelines and stepping across lichen-covered Torridon Sandstone into the splash zones. Reaching down to familiar rockpools I can photograph the bright green vibrancy of one of the simplest plant forms, a conspicuous seaweed called Ulva intestinalis, also known as Gutweed and Grass Kelp. Its’ tubular fronds hang loosely to rocks and harbour walls but it can detach and continue to grow in floating masses around most of the UK coastline.
I decided to film my walk to the seaweed lined rockpools on the Coigach shoreline, in response to Gala Waterways Group call-out for short films to reflect on the importance of water for well-being. My well-being is constantly enhanced by water and finding life within it. Gala are collecting the films to be shown @galawatergroup. The archived footage will be made into a collective and interactive artwork. Many more of my aquatic explorations are recorded on Instagram @juliabartonartist please visit and follow.
Winter storms, spring tides and soft snowfalls along nearby shorelines are providing much needed injections of raw energy, to blast away the increasingly felt COVID restrictions.
Determined to stay well and to break through the creative blocks tripping me up at the entrance to my studio, I’m pushing myself to take regular shots of shoreline adrenaline
When it’s safe I collect the storm-thrown plastic draped across rocks and caught in rolls of seaweed, enjoying being part of an ever more popular movement towards #Greenfitness
A way to enhance fitness and health while taking action to improve the outdoor environment.
In November I led two shoreline walks collecting plastic litter from the rolls of washed-up seaweed on local beaches, a #greenfitness commission for the Ullapool Feel Good Festival, to encourage people to be active in the winter, to stay healthy.
The plastic rope and nets collected will be made into skipping rope equipment in partnership with Plastic@bay and Green hive (Community Interest Companies) and available for use in local schools with events like skipathons and skipping challenges organised by Ullapool Community Sport Hub later this year.
It’s bracing and challenging being out and active in the winter especially when working on wind- blown beaches, but one walker commented “Being out and active in winter feels daring and crazy but also great, especially when you know you are helping the environment”.
I am often asked how I continue to work with marine litter year after year, fortunately I have a counterbalance, my love of seaweed. Seaweed has proven to be a beautiful counterbalance and antidote to my work with plastic beach litter. I recently shared my story with the Marine Conservation Society and Salvage Scotland.