Whale

'Plastic Whale Project' at UM illustrates Great Pacific Garbage Patch problem

2013-10-17T18:15:00Z 2013-12-26T18:30:28Z 'Plastic Whale Project' at UM illustrates Great Pacific Garbage Patch problem missoulian.com

In the dark theater, on a dimly lit stage, a 32-foot-long gray whale made of plastic bags looked so lifelike, it seemed to be gliding through the depths of the ocean.

As visitors came to see the one-day exhibit of “The Plastic Whale Project,” the iconic shape and colossal size of the subject prompted the same reaction – no matter what their age.

“When I walked in and saw it I went, ‘Whoa – that’s pretty life-size scale,’ ” said 10-year-old Liam Queneau, who visited the unusual art piece that took center stage at the University of Montana’s Dennison Theatre on Thursday afternoon.

“And then I said, ‘Wow.’ ”

Made from more than 9,000 plastic bags and created by 900 children and adults in Thurston County, Wash., the sculpture was originally part of an outreach program to engage the public in understanding plastics in our environment, explained Carrie Ziegler.

Ziegler spearheaded the project during her professional work with Thurston County Solid Waste, and brought it to completion with her vision and her after-hours life as a studio painter, muralist and sculptor.

“As an artist, it was a logical step for me to incorporate art and creativity into the educational program,” Ziegler said during a rare quiet moment when a viewer wasn’t asking her about the dramatic whale.

“When I thought about how to educate people about plastics in our environment and to reduce the use of plastic bags, I wanted something a lot of different people could be involved with,” she said. “Then I learned about trash in our oceans – and the Gyre.”

What is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – or Gyre – is a vortex of human debris, mostly plastic, that collects where currents collide in the central North Pacific.

“It’s more like a garbage soup, where the top 30 meters of ocean is filled with plastics that don’t biodegrade,” Ziegler said. “In size, it’s about as big as two states of Texas.”

With the awful reality of the gyre fresh in her mind, she remembered the story of a gray whale that washed up on a Thurston County beach in 2010.

When biologists did a necropsy on the whale, they found in its stomach a host of disturbing non-biodegradable items, including more than 30 plastic bags, tennis balls and a pair of sweatpants.

Ziegler said connecting the two made artistic sense, which was how she decided the whale would be the subject of her community project, and plastic bags would be the medium.

***

Consider this, Ziegler said as she explained the sculpture to viewers flowing around the whale – which seemed suspended in air, but was actually firmly anchored to the ground by four shopping carts.

“The skin of the whale is made of plastic bags that were braided together by more than 400 schoolchildren,” she said. “And on the skin is a map of the Pacific Ocean and the Great Pacific Gyre.

“In the United States, the average use of a plastic bag is 12 minutes, and each person uses about 300 to 350 bags a year.”

At 32 feet long and weighing about 250 pounds, the sculpture is smaller than its real-life counterpart, but it is made to scale, Zeigler said.

The whale’s eye is made from plastic bottles, its teeth from the handles of plastic forks and spoons. On its right side, the whale’s respiratory system emerges, made from plastic cups and milk jugs.

“I think it is absolutely spectacular,” said Austin Roos, a UM student. “It really incorporates at lot of interesting elements and it definitely inspires discussion about our direct influence on the environment.

“The use of mapping on the side of the whale, showing how plastic leaves land and enters the ocean to amalgamate in the middle of the ocean is really powerful.

“I really, really enjoy this piece.”

Although the exhibit lasted only one day due to an unusual shipping arrangement, the whale’s short visit was worth the undertaking, said Barbara Koostra, who as director of UM’s Montana Museum of Art & Culture was responsible for making the event happen.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to offer something that is both an art piece and an education piece,” Koostra said.

“It was kind of a last-minute opportunity, and we knew it was a powerful exhibit, so we wanted to do something different to display it,” she said. “Our galleries are always booked out so far in advance, but the Dennison Theatre wasn’t being used so we thought putting it on stage would be a really theatrical way to present it.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Daniel
    Report Abuse
    Daniel - October 18, 2013 9:13 am
    What a fantastic project! Everyone needs to be aware of what plastic is to to own Earth and the beings that live on and in it.
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Silver's Lagoon fish stocking

Fish are stocked in Silver's Lagoon at McCormick Park in preparation for children's fishing derbies.

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston presents the latest news you need to know about today's h…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

Visual note-taking at Asia-Montana Energy Summit

Visual note-taking at Asia-Montana Energy Summit

Watch visual note-taker Alece Birnbach record a 90-minute seminar on global energy in 21 sec…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

loading...

Search our events calendar