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The Māori artist takes a look at the future water world filled with plastic

New Zealand artist George Nuku presented his latest work as an installation that imagines the state of the world’s oceans 100 years into the future, where plastic has completely changed the marine environment.

Nuku’s project, nicknamed Ocean in a Bottle 2122, is on display at the Temple of Theseus in the Volksgarten in Vienna, Austria. The project is ongoing in conjunction with the rest of his exhibition, Oceans. Collections. Reflexes, at the Weltmuseum in Vienna until 9 October.

Nuku was joined by 170 volunteers to create Ocean in a Bottle 2122 over the past three months, imagining it as a means of raising public awareness about the use of plastics and how it ends up in the marine environment.

George Nuku Bottled Ocean Project
George Nuku presents the latest version of his “Bottled Ocean” concept in the Vienna Theseus Temple, in the Volksgarten in Austria.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

Nuku’s vision of the future is that of an underwater world marked by plastic bottles and extruded polystyrene, known by the trade name of Styrofoam.

According to the Weltmuseum, the work shows that sustainability has not yet been achieved when it comes to plastics, which are used for the ubiquitous water bottles found around the world.

The artist wants visitors to the installation to see plastic not as garbage, but as a precious, beautiful and even sacred material.

George Tamihana Nuku, 56, is a member of the Māori Ngati Kahungunu and Tuwharetoa peoples of New Zealand, and also has Scottish and German ancestry.

Moving to England in 2005, he was a resident artist at the British Museum for the Power and taboo exhibition (September 2006-January 2007) and held his first solo exhibition in the UK at The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Middlesborough, England.

He is known during his 35-year career for using plastics, such as styrene, in his work.

Bottled Ocean 2122 project in Austria
“Bottled Ocean 2122” is imagined as an underwater temple with walls lined with Maori deities representing air, earth, fire, wind and sea which are lined with guardians of the sea.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

Ocean in a Bottle 2122 it is conceived as an underwater temple with walls lined with Maori deities representing air, earth, fire, wind and sea which are lined with guardians of the sea.

Swimming around the underwater structure are mutant plastic jellyfish, stingrays, sharks and pelagic fish lurking around a plastic coral reef.

The empty plastic bottles are present in the installation as splendid objects that Nuku presents as environmental pollution transformed into a cultural and artistic treasure.

Plastic packaging and bottles end up in the world’s oceans and land on beaches and atolls, but they also float in swirling masses, especially in the Pacific Ocean.

In a statement, Nuku said the installation scenario will take place 100 years from now when “marine life is transforming into mutant plastic species. Marine debris and anemones are made of colorful plastic bottle caps.”

Bottled Ocean 2122 project in Austria
“Bottled Ocean 2122” is imagined as an underwater temple with walls lined with Maori deities representing air, earth, fire, wind and sea which are lined with guardians of the sea.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

Linking the work to his Maori heritage, Nuku said, “The song of the great 9th-century Polynesian navigator Ru invokes Tangaroa, the divinity of the ocean:

“Tangaroa i te titi – Tangaroa i te tata Tangaroa of the near shore – Tangaroa of the distant horizon – Tangaroa of the upper layers of the ocean – Tangaroa of the bottomless depths.”

He went on to say, “Now you are his children. Through my Maori heritage, I try to reshape our relationship with our environment. Ultimately, pollution itself is sacred, as is everything in our world.

“Plastic bottles, which represent light and water, the very source of life, are a treasure and a testimony of divinity. It is not too late to change our relationship with the environment and get closer to the plastic that permeates every aspect of our life today. “

According to Nuku, our world is undergoing a chemical mutation due to the overexploitation of fossil fuels, climate change and plastics found not only in oceans and marine life, but also in human blood.

Visitors to the exhibit can also see Nuku’s installation depicting the COVID-19 virus as translucent red balls hanging from the museum’s ceiling, the spines of which are made of empty plastic beverage bottles.

In the other rooms of the exhibition, each of which is painted in different colors, Nuku addresses topics such as the world’s oceans, an Austrian scientific “Novara” expedition that visited New Zealand in 1857, and two Māori men who visited Vienna in 1858.

The two Maori of the 19th century were presented with a printing press of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I which, according to Nuku, became crucial in the efforts of the Maori to make known to the world the injustices committed by the British Empire.

Bottled Ocean 2122 project in Austria
“Bottled Ocean 2122” is imagined as an underwater temple with walls lined with Maori deities representing air, earth, fire, wind and sea which are lined with guardians of the sea. Swimming around the underwater structure are mutant plastic jellyfish, stingrays, sharks and pelagic fish lurking around a plastic coral reef.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

The exhibition begins with The Big Blue (Te Moananui)which includes a huge embroidered whale and sea creature designs, and a canoe (“Waka”), which divides into the past, present and future as represented by the material used (wood or plastic).

As for concerns over colonial harvesting efforts, such as the Novara Expedition, Nuku said there may have been cases of theft of native Maori artifacts, but he believes the vast majority of what was collected was sold, traded. or given by his ancestors.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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