Gallery Oldham: Our Plastic Ocean | Oldham Council
Mandy Barker Published: Thursday, 08th December 2022

Gallery Oldham’s latest exhibition, Our Plastic Ocean, addresses the current global crisis of marine plastic pollution.

International award-winning photographer Mandy Barker collects debris from shorelines across the world and transforms them into powerful and captivating images.

The exhibition, which premiered at Impressions Gallery in Bradford, is the first major touring retrospective of her work and runs from Saturday 10 December to Saturday 11 March.

At first glance, Barker’s images are reminiscent of sea creatures and corals suspended in a dark void beneath the sea, but closer inspection reveals a more disturbing reality.

From footballs to fishing nets, cotton-buds to coffee-cup lids, Barker highlights the incongruous plastic items now ubiquitous in our seas.

Currently, eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year and if these trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

From accompanying scientists on an expedition from Hawaii to Japan, tracing the debris of the 2011 Tsunami, to a voyage on board Greenpeace’s Beluga II to the Inner Hebrides, Mandy Barker has followed a trail of plastic pollution across the globe.

The images resulting from these expeditions have become some of the most recognisable visual commentary on marine plastic pollution.

Our Plastic Ocean spans a decade of Barker’s work including the series Soup, meticulously detailed composite images of discarded plastic objects; Albatross revealing 276 pieces of plastic found inside the stomach of a 90-day old albatross chick; and Beyond Drifting, which sees Barker trace the footsteps of 19th Century botanist John Vaughan Thompson who collected plankton specimens, the ocean’s most basic life-form.

The exhibition also features notebooks and journals documenting Barker’s voyages and research; a case of sand permeated with microplastics recovered from a Hawaiian beach; and an installation of suspended footballs, crowdsourced from around the world for her 2014 World Cup project, Penalty.

Barker said: “For the past decade, I have researched and documented the impact of oceanic waste, combining art and science to raise awareness.

“I hope to inspire positive action in tackling this increasing environmental challenge which is of global concern”.

Councillor Elaine Taylor, Deputy Leader of Oldham Council and Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, said: “We are proud to have the first major UK touring retrospective of Mandy Barker’s work at Gallery Oldham.

“Barker’s images are both rich in detail and hard-hitting.

“As a council we are committed to going greener and it’s important for us to share this compelling work which explores an urgent and timely issue.

“We want to see all our residents disposing of their waste correctly by recycling their household items, including plastic bottles.

“We also encourage all our staff to use refillable water bottles and over recent years we have also cut our usage of single use plastics as part of our aim to become the greenest borough in Greater Manchester.”

There is a curator tour on Wednesday 25 January 2023 at 2pm, meet in the exhibition, no need to book.

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