1998 -2001, Galleri 21 Malmo Sweden. Also shown as dobhar eidir tuath at Triskel Art Centre, Cork, Eire December 2001
Plastic (bottle tops) collected from the coasts of Cornwall, Southwest Ireland, Brittany, Wales and Scotland. Wall texts in Cornish, Irish, Breton, Welsh and Scots; translations of the words water, between and people
Related to this installation and shown in the Triskel Art Centre was the interactive digital work Currents
The principle themes in this work revolve around the ideas of circulation and the connections between apparently disparate systems or networks. I am interested in how materials, in this case bottle tops, move between economic, cultural and natural systems and contexts. This material has circulated as consumable items through the system of economic exchange; from manufacture to distribution and from purchase to disposal. Then, as the detritus of this system, it has been re-distributed through the natural circulation of the world’s oceans. Intervention in this natural process, through the collection and re-presentation of the material, has led to its incorporation into a new cultural system.
The fact that the bottle tops have all been collected from areas on the Celtic Fringe is partly coincidental. But this coincidence can provide an historical echo to the ideas explored within the work. I had no knowledge of Celtic languages before developing this work. The text translations were found in various dictionaries and word lists of web sites dedicated to the Celtic language and culture. Here the internet represents another system of circulation and interconnection. The haphazard retrieval of disparate information being not dissimilar to the collection of sea-born detritus. Historically the Celtic Fringe is an area of cultural coherence that does not readily fit into contemporary national or geographical boundaries. What does connect the Celtic legacy is language, the western Atlantic and a history of movement and migration. This plastic flotsam can also be seen as a link between locations that overrides ideas of nation -pollution recognising no national boundaries – where the sea becomes a connective rather than a limiting entity.
Looked at individually the bottle tops also speak of their own histories, revealing clues to their geographical and chronological progress through different systems. The brands and logos in different languages that appear on them show their obvious past as part of a disposable consumerist society. Many are easily recognisable familiar global brands whose origins and movements could relate to any number of countries. Others more obviously relate to the country and locality in which they where found. Some reveal the connections between the different locations – French tops found in Ireland or Cornwall and visa-versa – as well as those from other coastal counties of southern Europe. A few present a more exotic history and seem to point to global nature of the world’s oceans – Arabic, Indian and Japanese script appearing on a handful. But then this romantic notion can not be trusted. Tops manufactured in California, Switzerland, Italy probably say as much about the movement of people and goods in a global economy as they do about the movement of the seas. Beyond the labels these objects also speak of their alternative histories. Worn by waves, bleached by the sun or encrusted with sea life they indicate the progress of their integration into a natural environment. Others bear the marks made by small animals, fish or birds, again pointing to the interconnections between natural and human activities. Then a few others show signs of their recycled use and human intervention – like the holes punched through tops to create an improvised sprinkler. It is these small acts of creativity that can remind us of the unknown individual within these global systems.