Panama 2019 – Plastik Paradiso

I returned to Tribal Gathering in Panama for the second time this year, arriving earlier than previously to be part of the build team, setting up the festival from scratch as a resident artist working with sea plastic to create sculptures and site decor. Alas, the situation had got no better from the previous year, if anything it seemed worse. As with so many paradise locations anywhere that are not maintained for tourism, Panama has an incredible amount of waste plastic (along with other materials) washing up on beaches, clogging up streams – creating micro plastic factories more or less – and becoming part of the jungle floor where high tides push this detritus up off the beach, where it remains.
It is a truly depressing experience to see this first hand, as far as the eye can see in each direction with more coming on every tide, picking through this scale of debris for interesting objects is a mixed bag of emotions. It reminded me very much of my time volunteering in Thailand after the tsunami, though a much bigger scale of disaster and resulting devastation, the way the objects of human activity were rolled and buried in the natural materials was very reminiscent.
It was a really intense experience spending 55 days in this one location embedded with the build crew, and then joining the show crew when the event itself started. It’s very powerful to create work from this waste, trying to make intriguing and beautiful images that draw people in, who then realise what they are looking at. The diversity of products finding their way into the oceans is also shocking: crash helmets, fridges, fishing tackle, expanding foam canisters as well as the usual beauty and cleaning products, children’s toys and flip flops, lots of flip flops!
Much of the plastic is very old, having been in the sea for a long time, meaning the era of design and the kind of toys that show up varies a lot. I remember a young French man came with a bag, “its like my childhood,” he said, amongst all the things he remembered from being young, that he had not seen since, “I’ve never really been to paradise before, and all this shit is here!” His father worked in the plastics industry, he was going to send a picture to him.
We created two new shows from the Plastik Paradiso project as well as around 20 new pieces, some of the work will be on show at Glastonbury Festival with Greenpeace and we will continue to support / collaborate with City to Sea from Bristol for upcoming campaigns.