Zooming in on plastic strapping threaded together to form #LitterCUBE                                 J Barton

My ongoing musings on our entanglement with plastic pollution and its interconnectedness  with the sustainability of our environment both here in Scotland and globally was greatly aided by visitng the  most recent An Talla Solais exhibition Murmur an exhibition of 5 women artists  reflecting on Climate Change .

Both the exhibition and a gallery talk by  John McIntyre (scientist) illustrated  the linkage between our actions and changes in world ecology.  John used this diagram called a  ‘Muir Web‘ drawn by Landscape ecologist  Chris Harrison as a visualization of habitat relationships and ecological associations of the Manhattan island, circa 1609.

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John Muir:  “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.”

Our inter-connectedness and responsibility to the environment, our species and each other was further wonderfully delivered that evening in a film of the American  philosopher/artist Donna Haraway entitled ‘Story Telling for Earthly Survival’  by film-maker Fabrizio Terranova.  Donna animatedly tells  anecdotes of her dogs prowess at complex agility courses, adding another layer to her own visual analogy of  our ecological and social mesh being as a ‘Cats Cradle’

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As I begin to select elements of the NEO Terra exhibition to take to Holyrood  in December to share with MSP’s and Ministers I am convinced of the importance of taking the #LitterCUBES particularly this one made from strapping  to help with imagining the depth and complexity of the issue that we are all enmeshed in.

COPcube2 - J BartonMy intention is to engage as many people as possible in the seeing of  the ecological web/mesh we hold in our hands.  To do this I am working up an idea to tour the       #LitterCUBES ( in much bigger forms) to harbours and festivals around the coast.

Please leave any suggestions  below of possible locations,  where you can see this working and ways to help raise funding to make this happen .  Thank you


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

Beach style campaign

My  campaign trip to the Dumfries coastline  to raise last minute support for the ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ developed into an exciting days work on Luce Bay Beach. The bay is vast and the beach extensive and has a great mix of sand, shingle and rocks. Perfect for anyone’s bank holiday.  Thankfully the day was bright and sunny though the brisk very cold winds kept all but the hardy seaside visitors away.

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I set the van up as a Sci-Art beach investigation unit alongside the beach, highlighting a selection of my findings so far  and open to all  beach goers. Discussions with intrigued visitors ranged widely from beach litter, to concern about the increasing acid levels in the sea and to fears of over fishing. On the beach I began mocking up a ‘Guide to Beach Litter’ using the litter I collected from along the strandline. The process of laying out the litter made me realise how complex the decisions to decide what to include in the Guide will be, in order to highlight the different : materials ,  hazards, and groups of people responsible for the litter.

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The item that drew most attention was in fact the collection of minute  fragments of mixed platic pieces and fibres that are found in the sand and amongst the seaweed.  I explained that these fibres and micro plastic particles are now being ingested by fish and marine organisms. The conversations reminded me of my dismay at being told by marine biologist Dr Philip Cowie  that organisms as small as sandhoppers had been found to ingest micro-plastic fibres.  As I had the ‘lab’ all set up I placed a (found) dead sand- hopper under the microscope and placed fibres beneath it to explore the visual connection. An idea I intend to pursue.

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I was asked what I was filming as I shook a glass flaskcontain in front of the camera.  I explained that I was experimenting with the idea of how it would feel to be in the sea surrounded by plastic particles rather than plankton.

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Flask contents : water , plastic particles and fibres plus architectural model  figure.

 ‘Well you have opened my eyes  with that, I never realised that’s what happens’                                     Alan local man

Yours is a great project and is doing a great job to make us aware of our environment. When you think about it the way we live has to change! ‘ Hugh from Whithorn

To celebrate these  encouraging comments in the Littoral Art Project’s work,  I spent the evening translating their verbal votes of confidence into visual votes on the beach.  As the tide receding I marked out  two X’s  using ‘litter lines’ made of prawn boxes and gun wads stitched together on Isle Martin last May.   One for #cleanseas and the other for #cleanbeaches


A full compliment of X’s will follow soon with the appeal and sponsorship update. Many thanks to everyone who pledged support, together there has been over £1,000 pledged. I am presently setting up a  [donate] button on the blog and I hope everyone will be happy to donate their pledges via this PayPal system instead of via kickstarter. Thank you!


Littoral Art Project campaign

Please take a look at my video appeal for funding this years project plans which I am working towards taking place in May and June on the north west coast. I am trying to raise £200 more by next Saturday 22nd March to reach my target of £1,000. To see more details and donate click on:


Please pass on the link, there will be original relief prints as rewards for donations. Thank you to everyone who has already donated!