In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, about which I wrote a seven-part series, the media and society at large were focused on freedom of speech, violence and death.  A story about climate change popped up on my New York Times app and I got to thinking: in a world consumed with hate much of the time, we forget what is happening to the oceans and innocent marine life below us. Well, it’s time to think about the sea again. With that, I bring you internationally renown artist Cristina Finucci. —Sally O’Dowd


“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends,
have become global garbage cans.”
–Jacques Cousteau

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things
but their inward significance.”

Cristina Finucci: “I work in time and space.”

At an art exhibit at the United Nations last summer, I had the distinct pleasure of joining diplomats and business leaders around a snake-like, fishnet bag filled with multicolored, recycled plastic bottle caps. I was taken by this unruly piece of art, designed to draw awareness about the toxic plastics destroying marine life.

“The pollution of our oceans is one of the most critical problems we are facing and art helps us face our problems,” the artist, Cristina Finucci, told me during a recent Skype call.

“My art is like a movie, a movie we all live in, because everyone is a part of this.”

Not your ideal vacation.
Not your ideal vacation.

And indeed we are. UNESCO in November awarded Cristina the Seventh International Prize for Water Civilization, noting that she has “launched a major challenge in raising public awareness on the devastating consequence of floating plastic islands in the oceans.”

Islands, you say? Yes, our discarded water bottles and grocery bags glom together to create masses of trash in our oceans—we’re talking about plastic-infested islands stretching more than 16 million square kilometers (6.2 million square miles). Cristina has aptly used her art to create The Garbage Patch State, a fictitious country made of plastic.

Elements of her work include a series of  installations in major capitals, each a massive piece of art made of recycled plastic;  passports and a flag she waves at her art exhibits; postcards on recycled paper; university-level coursework on sustainability and postgraduate work on design; a Facebook page for The Garbage patch State and a video montage (below and on Vimeo).

A passport for The Garbage Patch State.
A passport for The Garbage Patch State.

Developing an immersive and interactive narrative on multiple platforms was the only way she could catch people’s attention in a distracted yet connected world. Her approach resembles transmedia storytelling, a device increasingly used by film studios to give audiences myriad ways to enter a story, such as gaming, clues to a mystery or character Facebook pages. Then, fans of the story share their enthusiasm and knowledge. It’s collective intelligence at work.

“Centuries ago, artists painted scenes from the  Bible because people couldn’t read,” she told me. “Society and  human anthropology have changed so art needs to change how it communicates. The artist should anticipate how to decode the world.”

Cristina is no stranger to finding solutions to world issues. The wife of Pietro Sebastiani, the Italian ambassador to Spain, Cristina considers the diplomatic stage an inspiration that fuels her art and quest for change. “Of course, if I hadn’t married him, I’d be a different person,” she said. “I am from a little town. Being exposed to our globally connected world has certainly affected my world view.”

As such, she is in full support of the European Union’s ban on  plastic bags. (PlasticsEurope argues such action will hurt trade.) Under the new law, European governments have to “reduce consumption by 90 lightweight bags per citizen by 2019, and 40 bags by 2025, or have a mandatory charge by 2018,” according to  Governments also have to organize public awareness campaigns to explain the environmental damage caused by excessive use of plastic bags. Cristina’s work certainly fits the bill.

people making wavesMaria Cristina Finucci_ THE GARBAGE PATCH STATE _ 2014_Roma_ detail of the vawe (2)
Playing in the waves…of plastic. Rome’s MAXXI Museum.

Cristina’s ongoing series of installations also coincides with scientific discovery. In December, an international team of scientists published the first comprehensive study to date on plastic pollution around the world.  “We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia, in an interview last month with The Guardian. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants.”

While scientists ponder the facts, Cristina makes art. “I use the right side of my brain first,” she said. “After it comes out of my heart, then I try to understand what I am doing.”

More photos and a video below:

Artist Cristina Finucci waves The Garbage Patch State flag at UNESCO in Paris.
Artist Cristina Finucci waves The Garbage Patch State flag at UNESCO in Paris.
The shoreline of The Garbage Patch State (Paris, UNESCO).
The shoreline of The Garbage Patch State (Paris, UNESCO).
As creepy as a snake. Plastic climbs up the wall of Ca' Foscari University in Venice.
Plastic climbs up the wall of Ca’ Foscari University in Venice and down into the Grand Canal.
Plastic bottles filled with flower seeds over Madrid's Gran Via.
Plastic bottles filled with flower seeds over Madrid’s Gran Via.

THE GARBAGE PATCH STATE from Acca Media on Vimeo.


Sally O’Dowd is a former journalist and founder/CEO of Sally On Media, a company consulting on  business strategy and providing integrated marketing services. For more info, please click here.

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