What does a statuette of Ronald McDonald have to do with a keyboard, a water bottle and a syringe?

They are all plastic objects washed ashore on the beaches of the North Kent coast. Found by artist Steve McPherson these objects and hundreds like them have been transformed into complex, thought provoking pieces of art.

In 1950 the global plastic production was 2.3 million tonnes which has now increased exponentially to 448 million in 2015. The majority of it is dumped into the natural environment and finds its way into our rivers, our oceans and ultimately our foods.

Tiny particles of microplastics have been found in the majority of the world’s tap water. They are also swallowed by farm animals or fish which mistake them for food, and have even been found in the fruit and vegetables we eat.

The World Economic Forum has warned that by 2050 our oceans could contain more plastic than fish. Worst still, since the onset of Covid-19 the use of single-use plastics is rising, 129 billion facemasks and 65 billion gloves are being used and disposed every month, with large numbers entering the natural environment.

In Britain an appalling 700,000 plastic bottles are littered every single day and are making their way into our oceans. There are now around 159 plastic bottles for every mile of beach in Britain. New research reported in two papers in Environmental Pollution and in one paper in Science of the Total Environment has also concluded that the River Thames in London is ‘severely polluted with plastic’. In fact, it has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world.

Reflecting on this growing tide of pollution photographer and filmmaker Julian Hanford has collaborated with artist Steve McPherson to produce Plastic Song – a beautifully made short film which captures McPherson’s creative process and raises important questions.

Since 2007 McPherson’s primary source materials have been the discarded plastic objects that wash ashore on his local Kent coast. Wave worn, sun bleached and scarred with unknown histories, they are carefully collated to produce aesthetically beautiful art with an overwhelming sense of order, which is at odds with the wasteful nature of the material from which they are made.

Colour blindness allows him to mix and mis-match the object colour incorrectly.

His work repurposes these objects into intricate patterns in which the natural world comes back to life, as well as the industrial structures responsible for producing the world’s waste.

In Solar Dispersal the found objects produce stellar sunrays constructed of retro shades and hues. In another work he brings together discarded plastic toys; they are tanks, weapons, guns, soldiers and  knives  – upon which we realise that the playthings of our children’s generation are objects of war and destruction.

Julian Kirby, Plastics Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said It’s great to see Steve using art to shine the spotlight on the plastic pollution crisis, which is an ongoing disaster for the planet. Plastic has been found blighting lakes, rivers and beaches right around the world including right here in the UK. This is bad news for wildlife, for local communities who depend on oceans for their livelihood, and also has implications for public health as plastics find their way back into our bodies through food and drinking water. That’s why Friends of the Earth has been pushing the government to take this issue seriously and to strengthen its flagship Environment Bill to contain a legal commitment to phasing out plastic pollution and waste.”

Steve is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work is held in private, public and corporate collections worldwide. It has featured in the Guardian, Time and Coast magazine. Since 2010 he has worked with the conservation groups Marine Conservation Society, Plastic Oceans and Surfers Against Sewage.

Julian Hanford is an established photographer with a long career in advertising. After having directed many TV commercials, Plastic Song marks his first foray into the documentary genre. Touching and atmospheric, it was inspired by his interest in the visual arts and the conceptual depth of Steve McPherson’s work.

‘I think what Steve creates are akin to contemporary fossil records of our late civilisation. It would be strange to think of what a distant future culture would make of us if these works were unearthed many centuries hence,’ he says.

The release of the film features music by Anne Garner  and coincides with Plastic Free July – a global movement to reduce single-use plastics.

Steve and Julian are inviting the public to share the film and raise awareness of the plastic pollution crisis.

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