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.

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


Plans are now rapidly taking shape for stage 2 of the project.

Exhibition of the ‘Future Fossil Collection’   has now been allotted a perfect space within the fascinating Ullapool Museum, designed by Telford. Space has also been designated for the inclusion of the  beach litter ‘Timeline’ created by pupils of Achiltibuie Primary School upon which they will place their own birth dates and the objects they found on their beach. The exhibition will open at the beginning of May.

Beach Litter Investigation is now set to take place on Isle Martin the closest of the summer isles in Loch Broom thanks to the permission of the Isle Martin Trust. The Island was once inhabited and then a RSPB reserve before coming into ownership of the community. I am delighted to becoming their first ’artist in residence’. A big thank you to them. While in residence I will be mapping and investigating what I find on the islands westerly storm beaches over 10 days, I will be joined by pupils from Ullapool High School on 2 of the days. After the surveying and mapping I will be collecting the litter into different material categories from which I will be make my litter rafts.

Recycling Journey with the help of skiff rowers (with a few of whom I recently ventured out onto the loch with) I am looking to tow the litter rafts to Ardmair Slipway for collection by the Highland Council recycling team. My aim is to document the journey of each of the rafts through the waste services – for recycling or not.

skiff test row 3    skiff test row 2-1

This second stage of the project is being funded through Crowd Funding and private sponsors as Creative Scotland unfortunately declined funding for this stage of the project even though it ‘understands the importance of the ideas contained in the littoral project and is aware of your ambition to bring those ideas to a wider public through your artistic work. Your proposal was considered to have met all of the fund criteria and would be an interesting project and follow up to the research and development that was supported by CS. However extreme over-subscription of the budget meant other applications were prioritised. It has therefore not been possible to support your project on this occasion. The total request for this round of funding was £5.3million with a budget of £1.1million.’

Creative Scotland has encouraged me to apply again, which I will of course do for the next stage of the project, but for now I am focusing on setting up and running the project activities above. As a consequence of the short fall in funding I will be asking for as much support as possible from the Ullapool community and my sponsors. Many thanks in advance!