Pam Longobardi and the Age of Plastic

Posted as courtesy to Arts and Ideas Class: Environmental Art (Alison Ormsby, Environmental Studies)

Drifters Project:  Plastic and the Anthropocene

November 15, 2016 2:00-3:00 p.m. Humanities Lecture Hall, Free and Open to the Public.

Artist Pam Longobardi writes: "In 2006, after discovering the mountainous piles of plastic debris the ocean was depositing on the remote shores of Hawaii, I began collecting and utilizing this plastic as my primary material.  Since then, I have made scores of interventions, cleaning beaches and making collections from all over the world, removing thousands of pounds of material from the natural environment and re-situating it within the cultural context for examination. These collection missions are often done solo, as part of my process.  I approach the sites as a forensic scientist, examining and documenting the deposition as it lay, collecting and identifying the evidence of the crime.

Plastic objects are the cultural archeology of our time.  These objects I see as a portrait of global late-capitalist consumer society, mirroring our desires, wishes, hubris and ingenuity.  These are objects with unintended consequences that become transformed as they leave the quotidian world and collide with nature to be transformed, transported and regurgitated out of the shifting oceans. 

Even though my previous work involved heavily constructed painting-objects, I consciously avoid commodifying this work into a luxury object, preferring to keep it in a transitive form as installation.  All of the work can be dismantled and reconfigured, but nearly impossibly recycled.  The objects are often presented as specimens on steel pins.  Highly personal objects of hygiene and body association, such as toothbrushes and combs, are recurrent. 

The ocean is communicating with us through the materials of our own making.  The plastic elements initially seem attractive and innocuous, like toys, some with an eerie familiarity and some totally alien.  At first, the plastic seems innocent and fun, but it is not.  It is dangerous. In our eagerness for the new, we are remaking the world in plastic, in our own image, this toxic legacy, this surrogate, this imposter." (from her website)

On another webpage, she writes about refugees who have washed up on the small Greek island of Lesvos (Lesbos): "To get the full picture of this unprecedented upheaval, I located the ‘graveyard of the life vests’ as it is known, essentially a city landfill up in the hills behind a small town on the northern coast.  This was the final resting spot for the masses of life vests and floatation devices, including the broken fiberglass hulls of boats, that the vigilant citizens of Lesvos and the humanitarian aid workers had cleared from the beaches over the past year.  Each vest had held a person.  I was not prepared for the monumentality of what I saw, an entire landscape of mountains and hills of orange and red vests, warning colors, piled high overhead and spreading for acres.  I wandered among these mountains of plastic waste, climbing 20 feet up to the top of a pile to sit among them, unable to comprehend the sheer vastness of numbers, seeing each vest as a life, a person with hope for something better.  The spectacle of it was overwhelming, and I realized the new ocean plastic drifters are now human beings, forced to take desperate leaps off shores into an unknown fate.  And this one island of Lesvos had had a half-million human drifters wash upon their shores." (If interested for additional reading, check out a companion article by Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Associate Professor of Women's Studies and English at Penn State University.

Pam Longobardi’s parents, an ocean lifeguard and the Delaware state diving champion, connected her from an early age to the water. Her artwork involves painting, photography, and installation to address the psychological relationship of humans to the natural world. She has shown her artwork across the US and in Greece, Monaco, Germany, Finland, Slovakia, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Poland. She currently lives and works in Atlanta and is Professor of Art at Georgia State University.

Presently she drifts with the Drifters Project, following the world ocean currents, collecting, documenting and transforming oceanic plastic into installations and photography. The work provides a visual statement about the engine of global consumption and the vast amounts of plastic objects and their impact on the world’s most remote places and its creatures. Longobardi’s work is framed within a conversation about globalism and conservation.  In both public and private collections, with exhibitions across the globe, in museums, galleries and public spaces, Longobardi continues the collection, examination and exposition of the physical marker of the Anthropocene, the drifting plastic object.  In 2014, Longobardi was awarded the title of Distinguished University Professor and she has been named Oceanic Society’s Artist-In-Residence. Read More