The aim of my work is to confront the viewer to the scale of the problem of single use plastics, identifying the ubiquitous throw-away items I find and challenge audiences to rethink their relationship with plastics. – Diane Watson

I married a Hartlepool girl and moved there 14 years ago. I also fell in love with North Sands, a gem of a stretch of coastline running from the Headland to Crimdon. On days when a low tide has drawn out a great expanse of pristine sand and the sky is blue, it is a place to lift the spirits. It is also a place to seek solace, and to brood along with the restless sea and grey, rain laden clouds. It is a place where photographers and artists can hone their skills and develop their art over the years and never tire of the ever changing opportunities presented by each tide, dawn and sunset.

It is also a place that first alerted me to a growing problem; that of ocean plastic pollution. One person decided to confront the problem head on, by embarking on a year long project which started on New Year’s Day 2018. Combing stretches of beach (Crimdon, North Sands, Seaton Carew and North Gare) both north and south of the town of Hartlepool in the north east of England, environmental artist and campaigner Diane Watson has diligently picked up, washed, stored, curated and recorded over 7,000 plastic items that were either discarded on the beaches or washed ashore.

One wall hanging for each month of 2018.

She has a garden shed which has taken on a new purpose as a storeroom for all this amassing of plastic, growing on average by 600 items a month. Drawing on this multi-coloured hoard of rogue polymers collected over the entire year of 2018, she has put together an astonishing exhibition.

Personal and clinical items

The walls of the exhibition space at Palace Arts, Redcar, are draped with what look like 12 beautifully designed hip wallpapers. Move closer and you will see they are composed of the myriad of found plastic items; photographed, copied and reversed to create a kaleidoscopic effect. There’s one for every month of the year. At the exhibition I saw a similar reaction time and again as visitors were both drawn to their beauty and challenged by their content.

Bottle Tops: Number one found item by frequency

As well as the wall-hangings, Diane has several glass cases on display. Each one is themed, bringing order and some understanding to the types of plastic objects and bit of objects that are polluting our seas and beaches. One case is astonishingly entirely full of plastic bottle tops. Another is a macabre medley of personal care items and clinical waste; disposable razors, the plastic stems from cotton buds, inhalers to treat asthma and even a dentist’s mould (which was my number one WTF moment). There’s plenty to ‘entertain’ the kids too, with another case full of toys; plastic fruit and letters, Freddie from Scooby-Doo and the upper torso of a Ninja Turtle. A fourth case is an assemblage of items of unknown use or origin. Another, consisting of plastic shards has been arranged in order of the colours of the spectrum.

Part of the case of found toys and other childrens’ items

After leaving the exhibition I mused over its contents while enjoying a lemon top from Pacittos. It felt almost like an archaeology of the present day, which struck me as a weird notion, but not so much when you consider our accelerated culture. It seems we are capable of celebrating the opening of another drive through fast food outlet in Hartlepool, and worshipping at the altar of convenience and single use; it makes for cheap food and drink, but the true price we are paying is astronomically high. Consider this; one determined woman collected 7,000 items of plastic over 4 miles of beach in one year…Britain has 11,000 miles of coastline.

Child’s Play?

There’s No Away by Diane Watson is on show at Palace Arts, Esplanade, Redcar until 8th February. Her exhibition will be at Hartlepool later in the year.