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.

muir web jpg

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’

images     images (2)  images (3)

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: 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

Open Studio

The opening of the An Talla Solais members open exhibition on Friday gave me the opportunity to open my studio and invite visitors  in to see my growing collation of information and emerging ideas of possible responses to the beach litter I am examining with the High School pupils.

OS 27 OS evid bags OS 28.9

I am asking for comments to be added to my working notes on the walls as people walk around the studio.  The number of different of beach litter materials displayed are growing.

 OS ideas board    OS window dishes

Isolating them into specific groups enables discussion into specific  related problems. Something that I am keen to do.

littoral: tutorial

Arriving on the Isle of Cumbrae  early on Thursday morning at low tide I was able to watch the terns and oyster catchers rigorously working the tide lines for food. A perfect start to my day  dedicated to  focusing  on techniques to help me get to know what’s happening in the littoral zone around our coast.

My   eagerly awaited tutorial with marine Biologist Dr Phillip Cowie at  UMBSM ( the University Marine Biology Station on the Isle of Cumbrae  Millport) covered top tips on simple best practice microscopy, advantages of certain microscopes, effects of different light sources and ways of taking photographs through the microscope using a digital camera

  microscope techniques

Equipment and methods required for separating out different man-made particulates collected. As most low to medium density plastics float separation is easy and effective through immersing in trays of water and picking them out with tweezers to examine. Butchers dishes , tweezers……

 basic equipment needed

The range of plastics in one small sample from the strand line near the station at the mouth of the Clyde is huge  the cheaper end of the market using Polyethelene  eg household string, plastic bags (right hand rope).

material difference between ropes

Stronger products such as load baring ropes and clothes are made from Polypropalene this form of plastic being manufactured from individual fibres (left hand rope), the strands of which are at the centre of the stations research, filaments are now being recorded in a host of marine organisms including fish, crustaceans such as the Nephrops (pictured here) and most disturbingly in organisms as small as sand-hoppers.


 As sand-hoppers are food for so many birds feeding on our beaches I hope in someway to highlight this fact in my work . We then discussed the ways of capturing and keeping sand-hoppers alive in tanks for a display illuminating the issue of ingestion of fibres and the existence of plastic in the food chain. Dr Cowie pointed out that it’s difficult to be able to extrapolate and project the significance of their findings without continued and wider research into feeding habits of fish and other marine organisms.

Unfortunately this though will not now be continuing on at the station.

P.S By the end of the day I had been able to work on microscope techniques, build up my knowledge regards  identification of different types of plastics and the possible sources/origins of them. I was able to discuss the implications of the different            materials to marine organisms and  broaden my understanding of the proposedresponses to managing beach litter.The Station was an appropriate place for me to build  my marine education essential  for my littoral project as it was founded in 1885 on the ‘Ark’ a boat fitted out as a laboratory and  run by the islands naturalist Dr D Robertson and was visited by distinguished scientists  and inspired hundreds of amateur naturalists like myself.

I would like to thank Dr Cowie for his enthusiastic support for my project, wish him and the research team luck and success in carrying their research on in the future and to encourage  anyone who has the opportunity to visit the station.