Over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend I was able to make it out to the Falls of the Ohio State Park on a couple of occasions. It helped that this was a three-day weekend. I was curious to see what was lying around the riverbank after our first dusting of snow had blown away. As I was expecting, I found a lot of plastic bottles and containers, Styrofoam, and plenty of driftwood. I first inspect an area for the larger pattern left by the river. The stuff that floats most readily often defines the high water mark on the riverbank.
This is a typical detail of stuff that builds up on a driftwood mound. There are many automotive and boating references particularly plastic bottles that held various petroleum products. There is also a wealth of plastic beverage bottles to illustrate the carelessness of some folks recreating on the river. I have a mental image of this stuff eventually flowing downriver, into the Mississippi River, and out into the wider world through the Gulf of Mexico. What I see at the Falls of the Ohio is only what I see. I know there is a glacier of plastic and junk that by passes me and will show up somewhere downstream. With each succeeding flood, I keep thinking that all the stuff that had been accumulating upriver has already been washed into the watershed. That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case and the amount of “fresh trash” that shows up in the park seems not to have a limit.
Both days that I worked at the river were very cold ones. The piece I made using found yellow and green plastic was the coldest with temps hovering around 10 degrees and it was colder than that with the wind. After picking up what caught my eye, I retreated to my little studio area near the U.F.O. (Unidentified Floating Object) that is this welded and painted steel platform that washed into this area over five years ago.
I saw a possibility in the space under the UFO that was formed when the river shifted the driftwood mound. I cleared the space a little bit and found a plank and stump in which to set up what I would eventually call “Arrangement in Yellow and Green Plastic”. All the bottles and other colorful plastic items were picked up in the immediate area. The wind was really biting and so I sought shelter by the treeline. It took a little patience to make this piece because the wind kept blowing away the lighter items. Eventually, I fit everything together and held it in place by strategically using found bottles that still had weight to them because mud or sand had become their new contents.
My photos of this piece vary from one another because elements kept blowing off. I was struck that I could make a colorful gradation using primarily yellow and green plastic found just in the willow habitat. I favor doing these color pieces because they also reference the electromagnetic spectrum and without light, those ancient plants that lived and succeeded millions of years ago would not eventually become the crude substance from which these bottles were fabricated. It’s interesting to me to think that much of the energy we derive from fossil fuels is captured starlight from an ancient time. We owe it to the plants to be able to stabilize this energy through photosynthesis and fix it into their very tissues.
Eventually, the cold started to get to me and I was fast losing what little light was present on this day. I might have moved the blue plastic drum out of the bottom picture, but it was frozen into the ground and full of sand and mud and would have been a challenge to lift. After awhile, I began to like it for the additional color it lent this scene. One thing concentrating so much color in one area does is call into attention the brown drabness that subsumes everything else.
I returned to the river two days later. It was still very cold, however, a big improvement over the previous day. The sun was shining and the wind was absent. Having completed and photographed one colorful plastic arrangement, I set about creating a new one in a different palette of colors. Searching the area I decided to work at…I could see plenty of red and blue plastic items spread out among the driftwood. It took me an hour or so to pull these bottles and objects together. I wished that I might have come across a few more violet or purple items, but I guess these are colors that are used less than straight up red or blue? I know that in terms of lightfastness, red and purple plastic fades away quicker than many other colors.
Using a bit of the geometry I was feeling from the willow trees and the way the sunlight was hitting their trunks…I decided to site “Arrangement in Red and Blue Plastic” on the sand. There’s a distant view of the Ohio River through this informal avenue of trees. Watching how the shadows of the tree trunks were being cast upon the sand was an important element in the overall composition of this piece.
Among the items comprising this work are a blue plastic child’s putter golf club, the cap to a plastic cane that held Christmas candy and several flip-flops of the right color. When I finished this piece, I left it in place as I did the other arrangement. Perhaps the next time I return to this area, I may combine the two groups of plastic? I could create another grand rainbow with the addition of finding more orange in particular. I probably would throw in some black and white plastic items since they are here in quantity as well. I felt relatively good about this weekend’s projects and some of the images that resulted. When I am occupied with a project, I really don’t feel the elements in the same way. I suppose there is a bit of mind over matter happening too. When I do feel the cold, however, is when I decide to turn for home and come across a frozen sight like these containers locked in ice! Stay warm and safe everybody…from the Falls of the Ohio.