What do a Norwegian toilet cleaning solution, a Haitian margarine, and a South Korean shampoo all have in common? Their empty containers washed up on Sian Ka’an beach in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and were picked up by Brooklyn-based artist Alejandro Durán.
Durán first visited the beach, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 10 years ago and was stunned to see the beach littered with piles of trash. Expecting a tropical paradise, he wondered if he had ended up at the area dump by mistake. His reaction was to collect the trash. And then meticulously sort and arrange the trash for statement-making photographs described by Luchsinger Gallery Director Kristen Erickson as “both alluring and alarming.” Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape, Durán’s Luchsinger Gallery exhibit, showcases a series of his photographs as well as an installation piece.
For the past 10 years, Durán has continued to visit Sian Ka’an beach—gathering trash and creating art that juxtaposes natural beauty with the manmade elements threatening to destroy it. Ironically, the majority of the pieces in his “collection” are containers for cleaning and beauty products. Speaking at an Upper School assembly, Durán told the girls that he’s collected trash from 58 countries and territories around the world which he sorts by color or type (he has amassed 2,000 blue flipflops). And with few recycling options in the Sian Ka’an area, he has ended up keeping his plastic finds and reusing them for other pieces of art. “Right now, my reds are part of an exhibit in D.C.,” he told the girls.
Durán also met with the Middle School Conservation Club during his visit to GA. Over a period of several weeks, the girls saved used plastic bottles and caps. The day before the artist’s visit, club members sorted the caps by color and installed them at the base of a tree in the MS courtyard, creating a rainbow tree skirt of sorts. Under Durán’s supervision, the girls took the green bottles they had collected and hung them from the tree’s bare branches, a nod to the leaves that cover the tree in the spring and summer. They used the large volume of clear plastic bottles collected to spell out the word THINK in the grass next to the tree.
Creating artwork that screams plastic is bad is “too didactic for me,” Durán told the girls, “My pieces are meant to create a tension between beauty and horror. It’s like poetry—you need to figure it out yourself.”
Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape is on view and open to the public through December 17.