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How I use art to tackle plastic pollution in our oceans

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    This is Sian Ka'an.
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    Just south of Tulum
    on Mexico's Caribbean coast,
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    it's a federally protected reserve,
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    a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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    and one of the most biodiverse
    regions on the planet.
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    But when I first visited in 2010,
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    I was horrified and completely confused
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    as to why the beach was covered in trash.
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    I soon realized that it was floating in
    from all over the world.
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    I've since returned,
    after that first journey,
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    several times a year
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    to visit Sian Ka'an,
    to the country of my birth,
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    to work with this trash.
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    And so far,
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    we've documented garbage from
    58 different countries and territories
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    on six continents,
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    all washing ashore
    in this paradise in Mexico.
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    Although I can never know
    where a product was dropped,
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    I can, at times, based on the label,
    know where something was made.
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    In red, you see all of the countries
    represented by their trash
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    in Sian Ka'an,
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    such as these Haitian butter containers
    in all shapes and sizes,
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    Jamaican water bottles.
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    Not surprisingly, a lot of the stuff
    is from neighboring Caribbean countries,
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    but the stuff is from everywhere.
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    Here's a sampling
    of international water bottles.
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    And one of the ironies is that
    a lot of what I'm finding
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    are products for cleaning
    and beautification,
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    such as this item from the United States,
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    which is actually made
    to protect your plastic --
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    (Laughter)
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    shampoo from South Korea,
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    bleach from Costa Rica
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    and a Norwegian toilet cleaner.
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    And it's items that are all
    very familiar to us,
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    or at least I hope you're familiar
    with these toothbrushes.
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    (Laughter)
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    Kitchen utensils.
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    Toys.
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    I'm also finding evidence
    of burning plastic trash,
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    which releases cancer-causing
    fumes into the air.
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    People ask what's the most
    interesting item that I've found,
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    and that's by far this prosthetic leg.
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    And in the background, if you can see
    that blue little bottle cap,
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    at the time that I found it,
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    it was actually the home
    to this little hermit crab.
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    This guy is so cute.
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    (Laughter)
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    (Laughter)
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    And it's these fascinating objects,
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    but also horrifying objects,
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    each with their own history,
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    that I use to make my ephemeral
    environmental artworks.
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    And it all started with this image
    in February of 2010,
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    when I first visited Sian Ka'an.
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    I noticed that blue was the most
    prevalent color among the plastic.
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    Purple is actually the most rare color.
    It's kind of like gold to me.
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    But blue is the most prevalent,
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    and so I gathered some of the blues
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    and made this little arrangement
    in front of the blue sky
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    and blue Caribbean waters.
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    And when I took a photograph
    and looked at the test shot,
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    it was like a lightning bolt
    hit me in that moment,
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    and I knew I was going
    to have to come back
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    to create a whole series
    of installations on location
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    and photograph them.
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    So this turned out to be a sketch
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    for a work that I completed
    three years later.
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    I had no idea that almost 10 years later,
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    almost a decade later,
    I'd still be working on it.
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    But the problem persists.
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    So I'm going to show you
    some of the images
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    from the series that I called "Washed Up:
    Transforming a Trashed Landscape."
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    Please keep in mind that
    I do not paint the garbage.
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    I'm collecting it
    and organizing it by color
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    on the same beaches where I find it.
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    This is my precious trash pile
    as seen in 2015
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    after putting on a first edition
    of the "Museo de la Basura,"
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    or "Museum of Garbage."
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    It's fully my intention
    to care for this garbage,
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    to exalt it,
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    put it on a pedestal
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    and to curate it.
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    We have all seen devastating images
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    of animals dying
    with plastic in their bellies.
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    And it's so important for us
    to really see those
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    and to take those in.
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    But it's by making aesthetic --
    some might say beautiful -- arrangements
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    out of the world's waste,
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    that I'm trying to hook the viewer
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    to draw in those that might be numb
    to the horrors of the world
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    and give them a different way
    to understand what's happening.
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    Some have described
    the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
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    as an island twice the size of Texas,
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    but I've been told that it's hard to see
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    because it's more like a smog.
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    So through my artwork,
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    I attempt to depict the reality
    of what's happening with our environment
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    and to make the invisible visible.
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    My key question at first,
    after starting the project,
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    was, "What do I do
    with the garbage when I'm done?"
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    I was told by some
    that it could be damaged goods
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    after traveling across the ocean
    and being exposed to the elements,
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    that it could become degraded
    and potentially ruin a batch of recycling.
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    The landfill was not
    a happy resting place, either.
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    And then finally, it dawned on me,
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    after all of the effort by me
    and all of the people who have helped me
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    collect and organize and clean this trash,
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    that I should keep it.
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    And so that's the plan,
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    to use it and to reuse it endlessly
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    to make more artwork
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    and to engage communities
    in environmental art-making.
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    This is an example of a community-based
    artwork that we did last year
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    with the local youth
    of Punta Allen in Sian Ka'an.
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    A key part of the community work
    are the beach cleans
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    and education programming.
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    And as this community
    around the project grows
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    and as my trash collection grows,
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    I really believe that
    the impact will as well.
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    And so, over the years,
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    I've become a little obsessed
    with my trash collection.
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    I pack it into suitcases
    and travel with it.
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    I take it on vacation with me.
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    (Laughter)
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    And in the latest work,
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    I've begun to break the two-dimensional
    plane of the photograph.
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    I'm really excited about this new work.
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    I see these as living artworks
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    that will morph and grow over time.
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    Although my greatest wish
    is that I run out of the raw material
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    for this work,
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    we're not there yet.
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    So in the next phase of the project,
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    I plan on continuing the community work
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    and making my own work
    at a much larger scale,
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    because the problem is massive.
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    Eight million tons of plastic waste
    enter our oceans every year,
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    destroying ecosystems.
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    Right now, as I speak, there's literally
    an oil spill of plastic happening.
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    I see this project as a plea for help
    and a call to action.
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    Our health and future
    is inextricably linked
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    to that of our oceans.
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    I call the project "Washed Up:
    Transforming a Trashed Landscape,"
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    but it's actually transformed me
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    and made me rethink
    my own behaviors and consumption.
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    And if it can help anybody else
    gain more awareness,
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    then it will have been worthwhile.
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    Thank you so much.
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    (Applause)
Title:
How I use art to tackle plastic pollution in our oceans
Speaker:
Alejandro Duran
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
07:17

English subtitles

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