We clapped for carers, let’s unite again and bang the drum for the environment

We clapped for carers, let’s unite again and bang the drum for the environment

Environmental artist Diane Watson calls out the plague of plastic litter

Over the course of lockdown, my daily exercise has been to walk the same two mile stretch of beach with my dogs. During this time, the beach had been noticeably cleaner, the birds were singing louder and even the air felt fresher. Was nature in the absence of humans beginning to heal?

Recently, we have seen a relaxing of lockdown restrictions and late May saw car-parks re-open along with fish and chip shops. The sunny weather brought an influx of visitors to local beaches and within days the litter and mess had returned. Bags full of picnic and food wrappers, chip papers, bottles of beer and half-empty plastic bottles once again became the norm. This increase in litter was reported in the news across the country at beaches and beauty spots – it’s not just a local problem. The disrespect is shocking and it’s clear we need behavioural and system change at every level.

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My own creative practice focuses on plastic debris found along beaches and coastlines producing work that raises awareness of plastic pollution of the environment. I have worked with local communities to achieve plastic free status for Hartlepool, an initiative led nationally by Surfers Against Sewage.

The sight of all this litter is something I find both frustrating and incomprehensible. What is it that makes people leave their mess? Mostly the debris is single use plastics, and why after lockdown are we seeing such a rise in the amount of irresponsible littering?

Has the recent pandemic created a culture of selfishness where a relaxation of the rules means anything goes and a return to old bad habits? We have all become worried and anxious about our health, even connecting with our nearest and dearest we are told is a threat. And with the news agenda dominated by the crisis, have we forgotten what we were all discussing before lockdown – the climate crisis and plastic pollution.

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How do we move forward and view this situation as an opportunity to recharge, reflect and re-evaluate? To create a culture where this disregard, not just for nature but also for the pleasure of others, becomes a thing of the past? Have we become disconnected from nature while locked in our own homes?

I unfortunately have more questions about people’s behaviour than answers, but I do believe that education and information is the way forward. I have been lucky enough to get Arts Council funding to make a garden out of 3500 plastic bottles – the most commonly found plastic on any beach.

The ‘Garden of the Deep’ project will then be exhibited in conjunction with the Festival of Thrift. If you want to get involved have a look at the simple instructions and tutorial showing how to turn a bottle into a flower below.

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Over the forthcoming weeks as we lead up to the Thriftfest Upcycled weekend on 12 + 13 September I  am going to continue to make the flowers and collect the ones that others have made and do some guerrilla planting.

I am planning on taking the flowers on a tour of the Tees Valley and photographing them in different and unexpected locations. I am also thinking of getting on my bike with a basket or trailer and cycling round with them – or maybe I have been locked up for too long! Look out for some beautiful plastic blooms flowering near you …

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As part of my practice, I have delivered talks and workshops to raise awareness of the damage that single use plastics are causing the environment. Too often, there is a general lack of awareness of the problem and a sense that it’s somebody else’s problem. Shifting understanding to a consensus view that management of waste is our own responsibility would be a huge leap forward.

Whilst social media can sometimes be divisive and polarising, it does allow an opportunity for a balanced and more inclusive discussion and to promote more positive solutions and ways forward. It’s far better to encourage people to want to change their behaviour, by pointing out the damage that is being caused by their actions.

In a world of increasing misinformation, confusion and distraction, a simple message that unites the community is the most positive step I feel I can offer as a visual artist. We have come together to ‘clap for carers’ now we need to unite and bang the drum to respect the environment.

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Diane Watson’s work, including her memorable deckchairs incorporating stark environmental warnings, was displayed at the Festival of Thrift in 2017. It was part of the Latest Edition exhibition co-commissioned with Navigator North which featured the work of six regionally based artists – Carol Devey-Haughton, Diane Watson, Becki Harper, Nick Kennedy, Theresa Easton and Alex Sickling – responding to themes of the Tees Valley environment.

Find out more about Diane’s work at diane-watson.com

Watch an interview with Diane about her work in the TV news report at the link here https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=443546032857684

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