Is Plastic Fantastic?

A week on from closing  the exhibition  in Lerwick I will be showing the Terra Nova animation as part of the ‘Being Human Fair’ in Southampton University.

Is Plastic Fantastic? at Hands-On Humanities Day


The toy commando & I will be sharing my story of entanglement with plastic marine litter.  Please come and join us the event is free.

Date(s) – 19/Nov/2016
10:30 am – 4:30 pm

Avenue Campus Events

Join us for Is Plastic Fantastic?, a day-long, two-part event taking place as part of the Hands-On Humanities Day, November 19th, on the Avenue Campus*.

The morning session* will feature hands-on family activities that will raise awareness of ocean plastics in a creative and scientific way, including art creations in order to reflect on how sea-life is being affected by plastics; archaeological activities with real stone-age tools to discuss modern-day recycling and how archaeologists of the future will understand how we live today through the consumption of plastics; and a demonstration of how plastic ducks drift in the ocean! The aim of the sessions are to encourage participants to become active citizens in their everyday lives in reducing and recycling plastics and caring for the oceans.

Morning sessions will each run at 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30 and include:

  • Interactive Workshop 1: ‘An Archaeology of Plastics’, led By Dr Helen Farr (Room 1093)
  • Interactive Workshop 2: ‘Ocean Plastics and Drifts’, led By Professor Bob Marsh (Room 1095)
  • Interactive Workshop 3: ‘Creative Responses to Ocean plastic pollution’ led by visual Artist Natalie Searle and Dr Jane Lavery (Room 1097)

*Please note that spaces are limited for the morning sessions, so be sure to book your free tickets online now. When booking please choose which workshops and session times you would like to attend, being careful to ensure that your time slots for the individual workshops do not overlap. And be sure to also book your overall Hands-On Humanities Day tickets on eventbrite (link).

The afternoon session is aimed at a broader audience, with talks and discussions, short films, a poetry reading and a multimedia exhibition looking at the possibilities and problems with Ocean plastics. The multi-media talks will begin at 14:00 and finish at 4 pm with the opportunity  for attendees to take time to look at a selection of Julia Barton’s ‘Littoral Artworks‘  before and after the session. The talk will be given by leading ocean plastics expert Dr Erik Van Sebille (Imperial College), Latin American Studies Lecturer Dr Jane Lavery (Southampton University) and Visual Artist Julia Barton ( Julia Barton will lead a  walk-and-talk discussion of her works allowing audiences ask questions and contribute to the afternoons thinking.

The schedule of afternoon talks is as follows:

  • 2:00 Welcome
  • 2:05 Dr Jane Lavery Plastics: Hope, Fear and Interdisciplinarity between the Sciences and Humanities to energise communities
  •  2:20 Dr Erik Van Sebille:  The problem of plastic in our ocean. There’s too much plastic in our ocean. But where does it come from? Where does it do most harm? And what can we do about it?
  • 3: 05 Julia Barton: Terra Nova – an artists journey along the shores of our Polymer Sea

*For detailed directions and information on parking at the Avenue Campus, please follow this map link.

Is Plastic Fantastic? is based on current research and outreach activities conducted by hub lead Dr Jane Lavery (Modern Languages) in partnership with Dr Sarah Bowskill (Queen’s University Belfast) The Clipperton Project (TCP) (, leading experts in oceanography Dr Erik Van Sebille (Imperial College) and Professor Bob Marsh (Southampton University) ;   Dr Helen Farr (Archaeology/ Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) at the University of Southampton), TCP artists Natalie Searle and Julia Barton ( and Dr Devon-Cambell Hall (Southampton Solent University). Their work encourages people to think about their mental and physical surroundings and environmental issues in the context of ocean waste and natural/plastic drift through interdisciplinary activity between the humanities, arts and sciences.

Plastics produce both fascination and horror. Polymers have infiltrated every single aspect of our lives. Indeed, plastic and general high volume non-biodegradable commodity goods are fascinating to us because they are deeply enmeshed in our everyday existences: not only do they provide ease of living but they are equally part of our ‘extended life’ (Fisher 2014, 108). They provide us with hope too: from medical to nano-technology innovations, this highly durable material has helped human life for the better. As Fisher notes the materiality of objects ‘means that they are more than matter to us – they matter to us’ (108). But plastic is also a source of fear. Again Fisher remarks that as soon as plastic objects become part of human waste, they ‘turn from useful extensions of ourselves in the world to being things we want to void, to get rid of’ (Fisher, 108). Nowhere better is this sense of fear encapsulated than in ocean plastics. Unlike climate change, which has been widely debated and extensively covered in the media, ocean litter is still a little known phenomenon in terms of the true extent of its impact on fauna, flora and human health (see e.g. Van Sebille It is a subject which many would prefer to ignore, fueled in part by the monstrous media images of seals, turtles and whales caught in fishing nets, by misconstrued ideas about whirlpools, or gyres, purporting to be the size of cities, as well as by misconceptions that the damage caused by plastics to the oceans and wildlife occurs in the high-seas rather than right on the doorstep of our shoreline (Van Sebille, 2013).

The plastic problem is so vast it is difficult to see how we can possibly do anything to help the situation, but we can. Via showcasing the interaction between sciences and humanities in tackling ocean plastics, this event is thus about making people turn a perceived problem into a possibility, into hope. Simple changes in one’s everyday lives means we can all contribute in reducing the amount of plastic waste in our lives and oceans and to reuse the existing plastic (or use other biodegradable materials) in more productive ways.  Both the family event and multimedia talks will hopefully foster, particularly in children, but adults too, not merely a conceptual understanding of the issue but also a desire to be incentivised, via creative involvement, to become an active and responsible citizen in relation to the environment and ocean plastics. Even at the eleventh hour, there is still hope.

Project leader Dr Jane Lavery is a Hispanic Studies lecturer (University of Southampton) who specializes in Latin American Cultural Studies. One of her areas of interest is in ecocritical perspectives in the face of environmental crisis, the interdisciplinary dialogue between the sciences and the humanities and the role of the arts in energizing communities. In 2015 she was the project lead for the a week-long event, in partnership with TCP artist Nat Seale and academics Erik Van Sebille, Helen Farr and others, at a primary school in Bournemouth in which the entire curriculum was dedicated to ocean plastics resulting in the mobilization of 2000 pupils, staff and parents and the creation of artworks, musical instruments, performances, creative written pieces, sports activities and an ongoing school eco pledge aimed at the reduction in plastics at the school and at home. Lavery  is the coauthor with Dr Sarah Bowskill (Queen’s University Belfast) of ‘The Clipperton Project: Failure, Interdisciplinary “Ecotopia” and the Role of Art in Responding to Environmental Challenges’ which is in the process of being reviewed by peer-reviewed journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.Professor Bob Marsh (Southampton University)  specializes on drifting all natural objects at sea which set out from a point source or beach, such as volcanic pumice or juvenile turtles. Here are links to two recent papers on these drifting objects:

Jutzeler, M., Marsh, R., Carey R. J., White, J. D. L., Talling, P. J., and L. Karlstrom (2014). On the fate of pumice rafts formed during the 2012 Havre submarine eruption. Nature Communications, 5, 3660.
Scott, R., Marsh, R., and Hays, G. C. (2014). Ontogeny of long distance migration. Ecology, 95, 2840-2850.

Dr Erik Van Sebille (Imperial College) specializes in ocean waste and plastic drifts. See the tool. Also see co-written article in Science Journal For Teens, on how to clean up the ocean.

Also see Sherman, Peter, and Erik van Sebille. “Modeling marine surface microplastic transport to assess optimal removal locations.” Environmental Research Letters 11.1 (2016): 014006.

Julia Barton is a visual artist whose work is rooted in sculpture, she makes artworks that respond to her experience of both the nature and culture of a place. Her practice has developed from permanent land-art to temporary installation works, increasingly she has made works with the aim of drawing attention to our wasteful society.  In 2013 she set up a Sci-Art project into the nature and volume of beach litter which she began in Ross-shire. Julia works across disciplines and has intuitively developed working relationships with a marine biologist, geologist and conservationists.  Central to her practice is encouraging communities she works with/in to witness her findings, to facilitate this she creates mobile exhibitions, performances and interactive events. Her new  multi media exhibition ‘NEO Terra’ is the culmination of 3 years work on Scottish beaches.

Dr Devon Campbell-Hall is an energetic, transatlantic lecturer who loves every aspect of teaching literature. She completed a PhD entitled ‘Writing Asian Britain in Contemporary Anglophone Literature’ at the University of Winchester, where she also earned an MA in English: Contemporary Literature. Her BA in English is from Chapman University in California. She was a key contributor to the development of Southampton Solent University’s English degrees and now serves as the Course Leader for the BA (Hons) English degree.

Devon is a Fellow of the HEA, a member of the South Asian Literary Association (US) and the Association of Commonwealth Language and Literature Society (Europe) and is actively engaged in presenting her research at international conferences. Academic publications to date include peer-reviewed articles, a study guide, book chapters and reviews of several books on various aspects of contemporary and postcolonial literature.

Regularly sought out as an inspirational speaker and workshop leader, Devon is passionate about widening participation in higher education, and has a genuine commitment to helping students – particularly those who have entered University via non-traditional means – to reach their academic potential.

Nat Searle is an artist based in Leeds. She is primarily a printmaking, however runs a multi disciplinary practice. Alongside her screen prints, recent work also includes public art installations on walls and fences in the UK and Mexico. Inspiration is drawn from her immediate environment with resulting work being site specific. This has become a significant feature of her practice as she increasingly undertakes international residencies. Due to the expeditionary nature of these residencies, environmental issues are often highlighted through the pieces she creates.

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