NEO Terra: findings

NEO Terra: findings

On the 12th of November the final beach samples, taken from 60 beaches around Shetland, were carefully examined revealing a vast mix of  small plastic particles which were counted, recorded and projected across the exhibitions interactive space.

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51 of 60 beach samples taken from strandlines around Shetland contained plastic particles – Mangaster and Mavis Grind samples each contained over 100 plastic particles many  contained  Nurdles (plastic pellets being tracked across the world)

Many people returned to the exhibition for a final look and to share their own experiences of encountering beach litter, with stories of particular incidents of pollution from ship wrecks. In the early 1990’s two fish factory ships were wrecked close to Lerwick and residents from Gulberwick (a village a little way south) recounted  how they are still picking up debris from the wrecks particularly compressed foam (a form of plastic) from along their local  beach.  The plastic would have insulated the ships freezers. Perhaps next time the show is mounted there will be an island named WRECK, but for now the islands that made up New Lands /NEO Terra floor installation have been collapsed.

The majority of the plastiglomerates that I collected  from the beaches (25 boxes) and used to make the islands have now been placed in the Lerwick’s landfill facility.  Unfortunately this is the safest way to dispose of plastiglomerates which my have absorbed toxins from the sea. I bagged the few hundred  small plastiglomerates which had made up CORD isle to travel with me to new locations. The first of which was Southampton University   where I mixed together  plastglomerates from Shetland & Wester Ross to create  a geometric ‘Polymer Mix’ as part of my presentation for the ‘Being Human Festival’ focusing on the question ‘Is Plastic fantastic?’


The delegates all agreed that plastic is a fantastic material as long as it stays within the economy – being reused and recycled. The vast leakage of plastic into the environment is damaging so many environments as witnessed here on beaches in Scotland, the UK and in oceans across the world. The leakages need to  be stopped whether it’s from factories, tourists on beaches , commercial fishing industries, agriculture or from toilets in our homes! One thing is sure we are all responsible.

NEO Terra will next be mounted in Ullapool at An Talla Solais’s  Caledonian Gallery next May – I will  begin my next collecting expedition to Wester Ross in the New Year. Please get in touch using the comment box below if you have any suggestions of where  the show might  travel too/be shown or have any comment/questions.

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.

NEO Terra – building awareness

NEO Terra – building awareness

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NEO Terra is now host to pupils across Shetland, by the end of the week 12 schools will have visited.  Some  brilliant observations are being made and thoughts provoked.

‘I had great fun I enjoyed drawing the islands and thinking of names of islands’ Reece & Declan

‘I really liked the animation’ Ayla, ‘I found the micro-plastics interesting & finding what it all was’ Victoria & Emily          ‘This was incredible art’ Ben P7 Dunrossness School

‘This has been a shocking eye-opener into what is happening to our planet. It certainly ‘fires’ the next generations awareness’ Sandra Hays teacher

img_3925  img_3935

Pupils also shared work that they had developed after our workshops in the spring. Aith High School pupils worked with their art and biology teachers to produce both art and written work . Their work both wonderfully highlights what actions and innovations are being taken to change the situation  and will be added into an Island of HOPE which I’m asking everyone to contribute to in the final week of the show!

img_3826Primary pupils made postcards about the ‘future Fossils’ they found and examined with us in spring and brought in letters of response to their Return to Sender workshops.

‘Thank you for your insight & passion on the subject. With everyone working together we can make a difference. Good Work’ Charlotte & Lynn


To conclude the exhibition this Saturday  between 1-4pm I will be projecting the results of the beach sample investigation that has been taking place over the life of the exhibition. Please join us if you can or follow on twitter @LittoralArt

Thanks to all the pupils for coming and taking part and to the teachers & Trust officers Sita & Jane for their help in facilitating a complex set of activities.

Mapping NEO Terra

Mapping NEO Terra

The mapping process of NEO Terra continues. At the top of the hierarchy of notation  on the map are the island names writ large : WAD, BALER WRAP, PIPE, CRATE, CAP, BOTTLE, STRAPPING, CORD, ROPE, NET, WRAPPER

Following the map makers traditions the marine features such as Bays and Sounds are named after the island it is next too/part of e.g. Cap Sound,  Bay of Net .

cap  bottle-wick

The naming of coastal places spotlights the material the island is made of and our habits and actions causing this Plastic Litter Pollution Crisis.


On PIPE one of the long main islands, the southern tip is named ‘Out Flow Point’ slightly round the coast is ‘Flush  Firth’ and a little further north up the dark grey coast I write ‘Sanitary Bay’ thinking of all the wipes, tampon applicators and cotton bud sticks found on so many beaches.  On WAD the place names reference the sources of wads & cartridges from the use of guns  either shooting or seal scaring……..

Last week I sought advice from Eileen Brooke-Freeman (Shetland Amenity Trusts expert on Shetland Place names) to join me around the map to discuss local names and terms used to describe coastal features.


Eileens input has enabled me to add another layer of  naming to the map eg:on one of the Northern Wrapper skerries, above, Eileen names  ‘Slip Skerry’,  (Slip meaning to drop) a perfect subtle Shetland name . Eileen  smiles and explains that skerries are often named after animals, birds, or their shape and as we are focusing on actions  that lead to the islands shape this name works well.

We work our way around the map, discussing the terms for the coastal features and we end an enjoyable collaborative session  off the South West coast of CORD  where I have previously named ‘Melting Point’ and ‘Burn Beach’ Eileen suggests  ‘Da Melts’ (The Melts) would link in well. I look forward to sharing & discussing  terms we have used and the message behind each of the  place names with pupils who are visiting the exhibition over the coming weeks.



NEO Terra: first sighting

NEO Terra: first sighting


Exciting exhibition in Lerwick by friend and colleague Julia Barton at the end of a long and dedicated research process into the effects of plastic on  our landscape, seascape and our connection with our environment.   Link below to her blog posts.

The animation looks very interesting……..

cord-island‘The first sighting of the exhibition NEO Terra, an archipelago of  islands  was seen on Saturday at Da Gadderie, Lerwick,  by an inquisitive, thoughtful and appreciative audience. These first shots…’

Source: NEO Terra: first sighting

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NEO Terra – reports back

NEO Terra – reports back

Visitors to NEO Terra  have taken time to record their responses to seeing the New Land an archipelago of plastic islands stretching across the PLASTIC OCEAN and appearing in the POLYMER SEA . 


Beautiful work, great to work with Julia, truly inspired. Kirsty (UHI fine art student)

I feel sorry for the animals and nature. Well made   ID

Very worrying but excellent exhibition, thought-provoking   S Mathieson

Thank you this is an outstanding exhibition  IP

Well done, fascinating & so worrying C Hill

Amazing! Really brings to life the problem of plastics in the environment Austin

Important wonderful work well done Julia


Incredibly important work Julia inspired and inspiring. Congratulations. J Ashdown

Thought provoking installation R Priest

Interesting but very worrying

Memorable and so unsettling A Williams

Stunning – thank you for bringing to life the destructiveness of man. C B


Thought provoking and shocking, Great exhibition. K Hubbard

Fantastic, interesting, informative excellent exhibition. E Bennet

Stunning work which has an impact on so many levels, emotional visceral, acerbic, and cognitive      – very powerful and beautiful. J Nixon

Once I found a 6 foot diameter ball oaf plastic strapping, would have tangled up boat, seal or turtle. Criminal!    W Johnson

Great vision Timely exhibition – very acute, Will re visit  N Heth

Had a wonderful discussion with Julia about her work. The presentation especially the film is incredible work.     R & N Carlin Ontario Canada


Fantastic exhibition. Hard hitting video piece is really good. C Slater

Loved this display and is actually quite eye-opening once you see it laid out , about what pollution is doing. Very easy for children to understand as well which makes it even better. Would like to see more like this.  Fiona Livingston

It was amazing thank you for showing us  K McCormack (12)

Fairly brings home, the amount of damage being done to the world and the legacy we are leaving for the generations to come.  McCormack

Great to see the culmination of a project involving schools, including ours. An ingenious and creative process with links to arts, science and words. Plastiglomerates mimic rocks – distinguishing reality can be an interesting concept.    Joyce Gordon (Nesting school teacher)

Brilliant, multi-layered work, engaging, imperative – works at so many levels Judith Edinburgh

You walk on a beach & notice debris, flotsam /jetsam. Two or three days later you walk onto another beach & again notice the same. But you somehow do not notice the accumulative damage which this display brings to your conscious! Jim B Lerwick


Glad to have had the opportunity to talk to so many visitors, to hear their own observations about local beaches, their outrage at what we are witnessing and their support for finding new ways to show the critical need for change. 

Please keep writing in Da Gadderie and here on line.  How  do we bring about change?

I will be in the gallery on Friday afternoons  2 – 4pm analysing the beach samples, visitors welcome.

Thanks to Alistair Hamilton for the following review: The Littoral Project: An Exhibition That Worries, Provokes, Inspires |

NEO Terra: first sighting

NEO Terra: first sighting

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The first sighting of the exhibition NEO Terra, an archipelago of  islands  was seen on Saturday at Da Gadderie, Lerwick,  by an inquisitive, thoughtful and appreciative audience. These first shots fleetingly record a walk through the exhibition, around the central floor installation a 10 metre map with plastiglomerate archipelago within the Polymer Sea.  Exiting this space the Terra Nova animation made with Shetland filmmaker JJ Jamieson illuminates the origin and making of the islands/the plastiglomerates.

Turning left visitors enter an  interactive space where plastiglomerates with their place of discovery can be examined. 60 beach samples from around the islands are arranged side by side , a selection of which  with commonly found microplastics  can be magnified and projected.  Notes can be left of observations.  Opposite is a photo documentation of education workshops carried out in schools this spring.

Five cubes constructed out of plastic items found on beaches and a simply drawn timeline notating how long different items/materials might last on beaches completes the exhibition.

The exhibition runs until the 12th of November at Shetland Museum & Archives and is open very day 10-4pm. I will be present in the gallery on many days during the exhibition naming coastal features and analysing the samples collected. I look forward to meeting visitors particularly on Friday afternoons between 2-4pm

Many thanks: to JJ Jamieson for his creative collaboration and technical dexterity in making the animation. Thanks to John Hunter Shetland Museum & Archives curator for going along with plans for re-configuring the gallery, physical help in constructing the walls and keeping us smiling while installing and to Davy Cooper from the Shetland Amenity Trust for lending us equipment and calm we can fix it support. 

Installation was only possible with the help of artist/photographer Ailsa, art students Alice and Kirsty, Jane from Sumburgh Head, and Sita Goudie and Alice from the Trust.

Thanks to Jean Urquhart for making the connection between my work on the NW coast and the work of  Sita  Goudie running the Shetland Amenity Trusts Environmental Improvement work who in turn enabled the Littoral Art Project in Shetland to happen.

Plus all my friends and supporters on the mainland and world wide thank you !

cs-logo-1-copyand travel support from North Link Ferries