Artist Maria Arceo: Sourcing plastic debris to visualise London's plastic pollution

Photo: Ed Stone

After a year-long investigation on the River Thames and plastic litter during which forty beach clean-ups were carried out involving beachcombing, identifying and colour-coding what was found, artist Maria Arceo created the large scale installation Future DustThis interactive artwork toured riverside locations in London during Totally Thames, highlighting the devastating scale of plastic pollution. We caught up with Maria to find out how it went, and what she has been up to since. 

After a year of river clean-ups, collecting and cleaning plastic, tell us how the tour of Future Dust went? 

Well it was very hectic, so much work went into it, but it went well!

Potters Fields Park was an incredible setting and amazing to have all those photographers there. I loved it in the Oxo Tower Courtyard, they let me come up to the restaurant to take photos, and it looked like a tray of sushi from there - which was quite funny! 

  • Future Dust, Potters Fields Park © Hydar Dewachi
  • Future Dust, Oxo Tower Courtyard © Gabor Gergley

Did Future Dust get the response you wanted? Do you think people will change their habits?

80% of plastic found in the sea is actually land-based, especially plastic which doesn’t end up in the bin. To make Londoners aware, they have to make the connection with the plastic on the street, what ends up in the Thames and eventually on the beach. This artwork is aiming to quantify and demystify just how much plastic is out there, and make the point that we have control over this.

I think people were very shocked, because it did provide them with knowledge about something they didn’t really know about. I had people telling me when they saw all of the wet wipes in the artwork that they hadn’t thought wet wipes were plastic. They would say ‘the packet said you can throw it’.

We had a lot of both grown ups and children who were very touched by it. I think in that sense the piece was very successful, it did portray the issue without gimmicks – it was quite straight forward. Yes, there was the shape of the footprint but it wasn’t quite apparent and people could get up close and interact, which was very important.

What’s next for you?

Maria Paz, the curator from DrapArt Festival hosted by Museo Maritimo of Barcelona: Montecinos invited me to give a talk for the festival’s inauguration ceremony earlier in November and exhibit one of my photography works in the museum’s official exposition. Maria Paz also participates in the curating process of various other international environmentally based festivals, in particular, she wants to propose my participation with Pittsburgh’s Three Tree ReNew Festival that will take place in May/June 2018 which is very exciting.

One proposal I would love to do, is a tank, like a lava wave machine, but with plastic. So it would be filled with water and plastic and also oil as this removes the friction that breaks plastic down. Sometimes you find that if you pick up a plastic bottle from the water – it will be intact until you touch it and then it completely disintegrates – it looks whole. So I thought having a piece which is moving and shaking would be a good way to see how nature turns everything into dust.

There is also another proposal to make a table of elements with plastic, so each colour denotes a different family of elements but with plastic. It would be very large scale as so many boxes, so even if you make each one small altogether at a hundred and – loads.

I also have three studios which I need to sort through! Storage space is always an issue for sculptors, so now that I have some time I'm looking forward to spending some time doing that.

If you caught Future Dust and are interested in keeping our river plastic free, then why not...

> Make a pledge to stop using single-use plastic water bottles

> Take part in a river clean-up 

> Go fishing for plastic in the world's first recycled plastic boat