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Global Ideas

Carol Devine's Aqua Mess, a portrait of a place and its garbage

Though we have come to expect pollution in the seas and oceans that border densely populated areas, what about the world's more remote waters? Artist Carol Devine went to find out.

Name: Carol Devine
Occupation: Social scientist/artist
Project: Aqua Mess

Canadian scientist Carol Devine fell in love with icebergs during an expedition to the South Pole in 1996. So when the opportunity arose to visit the remote archipelago of Svalbard, which is located above Norway, she leapt at the chance. In 2015, she was more than one of 100 like-minded global citizens to join a marine expedition called Cleanup Svalbard.

The participants picked up 13.5 cubic meters of garbage at four remote sites. Her goal was to survey the marine debris accumulating along the shorelines of remote beaches and to photo document it.  “It’s distressing, but I think the more we show it, the more people will think about it,” Devine said.

Having witnessed the toll pollution takes on the planet, she created Aqua Mess, a collection of photos depicting a place and its garbage. It goes a long way to shattering the idea of the remote north being a pristine wilderness populated by polar bears and hardy scientists.

Portrait eines gefundenen Müllstückes (Carol Devine)

Portrait of found waste

"The garbage we found there came from many places," she writes in the notes accompanying images. "What the heck. We can't keep being like this. There's no magical street sweeper anywhere. We have to change our ways."  

She refers to the discarding of trash that includes fishing nets, porcelain figures, pieces of children's toys, bottles, inhalers, lighters, food packaging that is carried along on ocean currents.

Her work aims to illustrate how we’re all connected through trash and how fragments thereof are making their way into the food chain, via the tissue of Arctic fish bound for the dinner table. “We are our garbage,” she said.

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