Sharing ideas – Ragged University Talk

On Thursday evening I embraced  the  ethos of the Ragged University’s talks: ‘to share ideas you are passionate about and to learn something new’ and I enjoyed illustrating my ‘News from the Littoral Zone’ at the Counting House in Edinburgh. The evening also included a mind stretching talk by  Susan Brown from Manchester University on Sustainable Education and allowed the audience and myself to join in with the current thinking on educational approaches to ecologically aware education

The audience was wonderfully  attentive and I was happy to illustrate my research process of exploring the littoral Zones on the NW coast of Scotland  through images taken over the past 2 years  that I have  shared in this blog.  These included my initial shocking strand-line walks, learning survey methods, related hazards and the longevity of respective materials found, plus my trials to creatively share my findings with local community members. Take a look back through the posts.

I began by passing around  evidence bags  of litter items collected over the past two years from 18 beaches and exhibited during my residency at An Talla Solais, Ullapool’s Arts Centre during my residency in 2013 and then shown as part of my installation at Ullapool Museum in 2014.

evidence bags 1

I then shared my thoughts on how I am now honing down my research  findings to be able to focus on specific findings that are the most poignant to me and that inspire me to make strong vital imagery.  Item wise I am now looking in more depth at 3 of the less easily seen litter items found.

Gun Wads: plastic wadding to keep the ammunition in place   either in a gun-barrel or in a paper or metal shell.


180 plastic wads were collected last autumn on beaches  around Reiff on the Coigach peninsula by committed local beach cleaners concerned  by the fact that these  ‘wads’ have been found to significantly contribute to the death of porpoises, dolphins and turtles.Which is understandable when you view the gun wads floating in the sea as they are so similar to squid. Ecowad alternatives are available.

gun cartridges our contribrition to the ocean conveyor belt

Last week on Shetland I witnessed plastic gun wads on every beach I visited, as there is no known shooting activity on the islands, the Shetland Amenity Trust ‘Dunna Chuck Bruck’ team that I was working with thought it probable that they originated from the from the same place that the lobster tags washed up traced back to Canada’s east coast.   If we follow the conveyor belt of the ocean currents  round it is therefore likely that the  gun wads dropped on Scotland’s NW coast will be ending up on along the eastern Seaboard of America at some point.

Micro-fibres: degrading particles of plastic litter  e.g. rope, bags sacks, cord


Even on the cleanest looking beaches, where no obvious  litter items are seen,  I have  found micro-fibres laced within sand grains or caught up in/on the seaweed. On mass the fibres are easily visible but when not visible they can be seen easily amongst collected sand grains or seaweed with a hand lens or USB magnifier.   Marine Biologist Dr Phillip Cowie at Millport Field Study Centre explained filter feeding organisms  such as Prawns, flat fish and even sand hoppers are being recorded with such fibres in their guts.

Plastic rocks: melted plastic waste, formed by burning plastic litter on the beaches


Plastic rocks are perhaps one of the hardest litter items to ‘see’  as the process of burning so many different coloured plastic materials together, often results in  range of grey muted tones which blend in easily with the beach pebbles . I have recorded most of these ‘rocks’ in the mid zones of the beach as they are one of the densest of the plastic items and are less prone to being wind blown.

As I explained in my last post  the melted plastic rock  has now been named  ‘plastiglomerate’ by a Canadian research team and their research findings have led them to argue that the proliferation of the plastic rocks around the world can be seen as a marker horizon of human pollution.

Plastic Rock

I explained that I felt that this broad project knowledge was vital to gain before I could begin to envisage the series of  visual and performance artworks that I am now planning. I am presently working with Shetland Amenity Trust and Highland Arts organisations to raise funding to make the Littoral Art Exhibition possible in the coming year.  I intend to make installations and related stop frame animations focusing/using plastigomerate’s and the micro-fibres that I find practically on every beach I investigate.

Many thanks to Alex Dunedin who organises the Ragged University Talks, and to Susan Brown who through her fascinating talk on Sustainable Education has enabled to me see how my practice fits well in the Sustainable Education models currently being discussed and developed.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s