Drifters Project by Pam Longobardi provides a visual statement about the engine of global consumption and the vast amounts of plastic objects impacting the world’s most remote places and its creatures.
“What if artists were interpreters, translators, ambassadors of the Living, endowed with a sixth sense, with a magic power that came from who knows where, allowing them to welcome calls for distress from human and non-human beings, to understand them and make us understand them? What if artists were also archaeologists ahead of their time, everyday archivists, collectors of our time for later, witnesses of a changing world? This is the bet of Pamela Longobardi, an American artist and activist fascinated by the metamorphoses of the ocean in the age of plastic. Through her works, she launches warning messages to the viewer, thrown like (plastic) bottles into the sea. And who has never dreamed as a child to discover one carried by the foam?
Born in 1958, Pamela Longobardi grew up in a society where plastic is omnipresent, an integral part of her daily life, just as much as water, thanks to her parents who connected her scientifically and emotionally with this environment. She travels the beaches and very quickly collects the plastic objects she finds there. Fishing nets, cigarette butts, cotton swabs, toys, kitchen utensils or even the unidentified, this plastic pollution becomes the raw material of her intriguing works, which take the form of massive sculptures, abstract paintings, strange photographic reports…”
– Spark News, Fabrique des Recits, Paris 2023
“Part artist, part archaeologist, part forensic scientist, Pam Longobardi’s sculptures and installations are the synthesized products of objects and debris cast out from oceans in remote geographical locations and collected by the artist over time. Reflecting the crisis of our modern ‘plastic age,’ Longobardi’s work highlights notions of commerce, consumption, and the wastefulness of human society, as well as the powerful and unseen forces of nature to demolish and transform the objects we create.”
– 2014 Hudgens Prize Winner Jurors Statement ( Doryun Chong, MOMA; Heather Pesanti, Austin Contemporary Art Center; Toby Kamps, Menil Foundation)
“Longobardi has worked with found plastic as a primary material for nearly two decades, creating conceptual art that invites us to consider human responsibility toward an increasingly stressed environment. Featuring her global community-art practice, which has engaged citizen-artists from Bali to Greece to Hawaii, she argues that the function of art is not only to ‘make us see’ but also to ‘make us care’ in the face of emergent ecological crises worldwide.“
– Joyce Robinson, Palmer Museum of Art, 2018
“To look at the works of art created by Pam Longobardi is to see just a narrow sliver of her artistic practice, the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Yet, a museum visitor who encounters her work in the context of an exhibition, even if they know nothing of the depth and rigor of her practice, will be captivated by the beauty, color, and form of her meticulous installations, many of which are composed of hundreds of individual pieces of found ocean plastic pinned to the wall with specimen pins. Others are large-scale sculptures assembled from the tens of thousands of pounds of ocean plastic that Longobardi has removed from oceans and beaches around the globe over the past two decades.”
– Courtney McNeil, Baker Museum, Artis-Naples, 2022
“By surfing along a strong Pacific Ocean current from the force of The Great Gyre, discarded everyday items make their way by the ton to the southern tip of Hawaii where they bear witness to manifold unseen and unaccounted for objects people tossed aside in the wake of global capitalism and progress. Drifters Project strikes like the return of the repressed. All those forgotten and misshapen items come back again to tell a tale. The story they tell is of a human world of global capitalism whose economy functions by engineered obsolescence of objects and peoples. Once useful products, these drifters become castaways in a throw-away culture. Could they bear signs for a contract with nature?”
-Ron Broglio, Drifters: Plastic, Pollution and Personhood, p. 2010
The DRIFTERS PROJECT, begun by Pam Longobardi in 2006 after encountering the mountainous piles of plastic the ocean was regurgitating on remote Hawaiian beaches, has worked directly through local sponsorship, small grant support and personal expenditure by cleaning beaches, making art and working with communities in Beijing, China (NY Arts Beijing, 2008); in Atlanta, Georgia (New Genre Landscape, 2008); in Nicoya, Costa Rica (Chorotega Sede/Universidad Nacional, 2009); in Samothraki, Greece (EVROS Cultural Association and PAI 2010); in Monaco (Nouveau Museé National de Monaco 2011); in Seward, Alaska and Alaskan Peninsula, Katmai National Park as part of the GYRE Expedition (Alaska SeaLife Center 2011, Anchorage Museum 2013-4 and CDC Museum in Atlanta, 2015); in Kefalonia, Greece (Ionion Center, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, ongoing) with the 2014 birth of Plastic Free Island; in Armila, Panama in collaboration with women artists of the Guna Yala community there, and Indonesian island communities between Bali and Komodo (2016, 2019) and Raja Ampat (2022.) Longobardi and the Drifters Project was has been featured in National Geographic, commissioned for the cover of SIERRA magazine, and was a guest twice on the Weather Channel. Longobardi is Artist-In-Nature for Oceanic Society and Regents’ Professor, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Art at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
THE CONSCIOUS OCEAN proposes a collaboration between art, science, activism and like-minded groups that begins with the assumption that the ocean is a conscious entity that, in many different ways, from rising levels and temperatures to declining fish stocks to coral bleaching and finally to the deformed material plastic objects that float the world round, is attempting to communicate its declining state of being. The CONSCIOUS OCEAN also proposes that, though geo-political boundaries and naming have created numerous different ‘oceans’ and ‘seas’, it is one world ocean, one continuous, flowing, interconnected liquid entity. ~Longobardi
Pam Longobardi’s parents, an ocean lifeguard and the Delaware state diving champion, connected her from an early age to the water. She moved to Atlanta in 1970 and saw her neighborhood pond drained to build the high school she attended. Since then, she lived for varying time periods in Wyoming, Montana, California, and Tennessee, and worked as a firefighter and tree planter, a scientific illustrator and an aerial mapmaker, a collaborative printer and a color mixer. Her artwork involves painting, photography and installation to address the psychological relationship of humans to the natural world. She has exhibited across the US and in Greece, Monaco, Germany, Finland, Slovakia, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Costa Rica and Poland. She currently lives and works in Atlanta as Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of Art at Georgia State University and drifts with the ongoing Drifters Project, following the world ocean currents. With the Drifters Project, she collects, documents and transforms oceanic plastic into installations, public art and photography. The work provides a visual statement about the engine of global consumption -the vast amounts of plastic objects’ impact on the world’s most remote places and its’ creatures – framed within a conversation about globalism and conservation. Longobardi participated in the 2013 GYRE expedition to remote coastal areas of Alaska and created project-specific large-scale works for exhibition at the Anchorage Museum February 2014 that travelled nationwide to five US museums. Longobardi was featured in a National Geographic film on the GYRE expedition and her Drifters Project was featured in National Geographic magazine. Longobardi created a site-specific installation for a special project of the Venice cultural association Ministero di Beni Culturali (MiBAC) and the Ministry of Culture of Rome for the 55th Venice Biennale on the Island of San Francesco del Deserto in the Venetian Lagoon, a work made from plastic water bottles, crystals and a mirrored satellite dish that signaled an apology to St. Francis across the lagoon to the island of Burano. She exhibited photography in Seescape at George Adams Gallery in New York, and won the prestigious Hudgens Prize (2013), one of the largest single prizes given to an artist in North America. She has an ongoing collaboration supported by the Ionion Center for Art and Culture in Metaxata, Kefalonia, Greece. In 2019, Longobardi was awarded the title of Regents’ Professor at GSU, and is Oceanic Society’s Artist-In-Nature.
Artist STATEMENT 2021 ~ Pam Longobardi (254Words)
I am a conceptual artist grounded in modalities of forensic investigation, action, collaborative process and social practice. I was born in NJ, daughter of an ocean lifeguard and Delaware state diving champion, and worked as firefighter, tree planter, scientific illustrator, archeological mapmaker, collaborative printer, artist, and educator. My artwork involves sculpture, installation, film, performance and social engagement, and is framed within a conversation on globalism and climate change. It addresses the geo-politics of the changing ocean as social and commodified space. In 2006, I created Drifters Project, an artistic research project focusing on contemporary global archeology: drifting plastic objects. After eye-witnessing immense amounts of plastic regurgitated on remote beaches worldwide, my work shifted to collective art activism, now an international entity with thousands of participants resituating tons of material.
Plastic artifacts contain potential messages that can be decoded with self-reflection; material that has been exchanged with the ocean is a mirror to our world. I engage citizens in active processes of cleaning as care: action as antidote to experience the transformative connective shift that occurs. Plastic is the geologic marker of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, or most poignantly, Eremocene, the ‘Age of Loneliness.’(E.O.Wilson). Plastic production, dissemination and zombie afterlife contributes to Earth’s present 6th Mass Extinction and is at the epicenter of climate change. In addition to gallery/museum installations, I do site-work, involving forms of distance messaging such as mirror communication, Semaphore, and S.O.S. messages shot by drone, as performative pieces, projecting messages of attention. This, along with my studio-based painting practice involving phenomenology and chemistry, makes up the whole of my work.
Drifters Project Statement (original) ~ Pam Longobardi
IN 2006, after discovering the mountainous piles of plastic debris the ocean was depositing on the remote shores of Hawaii, I began collecting and utilizing this plastic as my primary material in my project called Drifters. Since then, I have made scores of interventions, cleaning beaches and making collections from all over the world, removing tens of thousands of pounds of material from the natural environment and re-situating it within social and cultural contexts for examination. These collection missions were originally done solo, as part of my process, but has grown to encompass thousands of people in scores of global sites. I approach the sites utilizing forensic aesthetics, examining and documenting the deposition as it lay, collecting and identifying the evidence of the crime and messages the ocean is conveying.
Plastic objects are the cultural archeology of our time. These objects I see as a portrait of global late-capitalist consumer society, mirroring our desires, wishes, hubris and ingenuity. These are objects with unintended consequences that become transformed as they leave the quotidian world and collide with nature to be transformed, transported and regurgitated out of the shifting oceans. The ocean is communicating with us through the materials of our own making. The plastic elements initially seem attractive and innocuous, like toys, some with an eerie familiarity and some totally alien. At first, the plastic seems innocent and fun, but it is not. It is dangerous. We are remaking the world in plastic.
In keeping with the movement of drift of these material artifacts, I prefer using them in a transitive form as installation. All of the work can be dismantled, reconfigured but nearly impossibly recycled. The objects are presented as specimens on steel pins or wired together to form larger structures. I am a conceptual artist with a strong affinity to materials and process. I was trained as a painter and printmaker, and continue this in my studio practice, but have always worked in varying mediums from photography to painting and collage to installation, allowing the ideas to dictate the materials I work with. I am interested in the collision between nature and global consumer culture. Ocean plastic is a material that can unleash unpredictable dynamics. I am interested in it in particular, as opposed to all garbage in general, because of what it reveals about us as a global culture and what it reveals about the ocean as a type of cultural space, as well as a giant dynamic engine of life and change. As a product of culture that exhibits visibly the attempts of nature to reabsorb and regurgitate this invader, ocean plastic has profound stories to tell.