Currently showing at Gallery Route One, in Point Reyes Station is an exhibition of work by Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang. The show, titled The True Cost of Plastic, is part of a larger, ongoing collaborative project by the artists. The Lang’s have been visiting a particular segment of Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Sea Shore since 1999. During their beachcombing they gather plastic debris that has been washed up on the shore from the Pacific Ocean. The process has become an amazing journey for them. They approach their work like archeologists, noting that each “finding” has its own story to tell, as well as contributing to the bigger picture of human history and the “throw-away” culture.
The Lang’s carefully examine and sort the bits of plastic refuse they find, and then use it to create works of art. With minimum modification, the pieces are arranged into abstract or narrative compositions, which are then photographed and printed. The resulting colorful images can be deceptive in their beauty and matter-of-fact presentation. While being drawn into the design and assortment of objects, the deeper meanings begin to arise. Thoughts begin to surface; such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the various threats to marine life, and the fact that plastic never goes away. I am reminded of the article “Polymers Are Forever” published in Orion Magazine. The article talks about how plastic doesn’t bio-degrade, but breaks down into tiny nurdles that are getting into our food chain.
The first exhibition from this project, titled One Year, One Beach, was exhibited at Gallery Route One in 2001. After that things really took off for the Langs. With over 50 exhibitions to date, their work has been shown in cities throughout the United States and Europe. They currently have work on view at the Marine Mammal Center, in Sausalito. In June 2013 they will install a permanent display in the Natural Sciences department of the Oakland Museum of California.
Thirteen years after that first show, stuff keeps washing up, and the Lang’s are still energized by the task of picking up trash. The current exhibition, The True Cost of Plastic, takes on a more somber tone about complex issues. Over the years they have amassed a collection of plastic toy soldiers. Looking at these, the artists said that, “Wracked by a long life at sea, some of the faces are gnarled, [and] abraded by the sand. When we looked into the tiny faces we were amazed by their expressions. Each soldier is a poignant reminder of the ravages of war and the extremes to which nations will go to preserve dominion over the petrochemical world.” The exhibition includes large-scale photographs of toy soldiers, a re-enactment of a battle scene, and some rare and amazing pieces of plastic they have collected.
Also showing at G R O are paintings by Dorothy Nissen, and photography by Eric Engstrom. The exhibitions continue through April 28, Gallery Route One is located on Highway One, in Point Reyes Station. For more information check their website, galleryrouteone.org. To learn more about the Lang’s, go to their website, beachplastic.com.