Aug 17, 2016 | By Alec
When thinking of the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, a few keywords immediately come to mind: sun, sand, tropical cocktails, bronzed bodies and bikinis. It’s therefore understandable that many beachgoers were surprised to find a huge plastic statue on the beach of Botafogo in Rio earlier this summer. The 12m long statue was entirely made from plastic waste, with the bottles still recognizable. Simultaneously, a 3D printed 1.2m version was unveiled in Amsterdam. Designed by Dutch artist Peter Smith (with the Brazilian version realized by Eric Fuly), these remarkable statues were designed to draw attention to the plastic soup that we are turning our oceans in to. What’s more, a full-sized 3D printed version of the statue will be unveiled on Scheveningen Beach next year.
The Plastic Madonna was unveiled on World Oceans Day (8 June), and is a truly remarkable concept. Symbolizing the mother who unintentionally poisons her baby with plastic molecules while breastfeeding, the Rio beaches could not be a better place to put it. It’s the last place where we can stop plastic trash from ending up in the ‘plastic soup’ of the world oceans, where it is eaten by sea creatures – which we in turn eat. We are, the artists say, unintentionally poisoning ourselves and our entire food chain, stopping the baby from ever growing up to become Christo Redentor (the huge statue of Jesus that looks down on Rio).
The numbers certainly support this interpretation. Every year, about 8 billion kilograms of plastic is dumped into the oceans – or about 15,000 kilograms per minute. Only a portion of that plastic can be fished out the sea again, with most being eaten by the small organisms right at the bottom of the food chain. This is passed on and on – with 33 percent of all Cod caught in the English Channel carrying plastic in their stomachs. When it comes to crab and birds from that same region, the numbers spike up to over the 80 percent. The 100,000 bottles that were used to build the Rio Plastic Madonna only compensate for about 10 seconds’ worth of dumped plastic. It’s also hugely expensive – removing plastic waste from our world costs the Dutch government at least 250 million euros per year.
But according to Dutch artist Peter Smith, we can easily do something about it ourselves. Just pick up one piece of plastic waste every day, and the problem solves itself. To promote this simple solution, Smith started the KLEAN foundation –the Dutch acronym for Complaining Really Solves Absolutely Nothing. “I can still remember being embarrassed to pick up a used plastic bottle,” Smith recalls. “It’s because you never see anyone doing that. But when more people start doing it, we can encourage everyone to change the world.” Together with Merijn Everaarts, owner of the Dutch plastic bottle recycling initiative Dopper, they are trying to bring this message out there.
The first step is this Plastic Madonna in Rio, which was made by Brazilian artist Eric Fuly following Smith’s design. This Brazilian version was completely made with local waste, and especially the caps from PET bottles are still very visible. And as the eyes of the world are currently on Rio, it was a fantastic opportunity for getting their message out there. Due to a kidney disease, the artist wasn’t able to travel to Rio himself, but fortunately Fuly and a huge team of Brazilian volunteers were more than happy to help.
Fuly is also a teacher, and involved a lot of students in the creative and technical building processes as well – which not only taught them valuable skills, but also showed them how their own actions can change the world. “This project challenged me to make every single bottle into something valuable, and to draw attention to the ecological problems the world is confronted with. Art and sustainability can be perfectly combined,” Fuly said of the project. Fortunately, the municipality of Rio also saw the importance of this project and helped wherever they could.
But the real goal is to 3D print a 12m long version in the Netherlands, which is scheduled to be unveiled on the Dutch beach of Scheveningen (near The Hague) next summer. A 1.2m long 3D printed version, completely made from recycled plastic, was already unveiled at the FabCity campus in Amsterdam to show the validity of the project. The Plastic Madonna concept was modeled after Dutch actress and model Thekla Reuten, who recently became a mother herself.
With this fantastic project, Smith hopes to highlight not just the problem, but also the solution. “A lot of people believe that a single bottle doesn’t make a difference. But every single decision to just dump a bottle contributes to that plastic soup. I want to harness mankind’s ability to reverse this trend,” he argues, adding that we can quickly clean the world if just one in four people pick up a single piece of trash every day. “Once we start seeing the results and convince people around us, we’ll see that no action is too small to make a difference.”
This power will be underlined by the 12m long Plastic Madonna, which will become the biggest piece of participation art in Dutch history. 3D printing will kick off soon, and will showcase how easy and how tangible recycling has become.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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