This professor of art at Georgia State University combs the world’s most beautiful coastlines for marine debris that she fashions into thought-provoking art exhibits.

By Sarah Latta
February 01, 2010
Dave Rothstein

CL: What on earth are those huge mounds of rope?

PL: Netballs. They’re massive, tangled webs of discarded fishing nets that find each other in the ocean and eventually wash up on shore. Because they aren’t bio-degradable, they trap fish and other marine animals. Some are the size of whales!

CL: You then use the nets and other collected objects to create the Drifters Project (a compilation of collages, photography, and wall installations) in galleries and museums all over the world. What’s your message?

PL: I want people to think about our planet’s future and where plastic goes when it leaves our hands. People see the items and think, “That’s the same comb I use! What’s happened to the ones I’ve thrown away?”

CL: Where is your favorite spot to collect “art supplies”?

PL: I’ve traveled to California, Costa Rica, and Italy, but my favorite place to collect is Hawaii. It’s this wild land mass that catches a lot of the ocean’s garbage.

CL: Have you ever found anything really bizarre?

PL: I once found a novelty bottle-turned-cordless-phone from the ’70s. I’ve also found objects with Polish, Czech, Chinese, and Spanish writing in Hawaii, which shows how far they’ve traveled!

CL: What is on your desk right now?

PL: Photographs of waves, pebbles from every beach I’ve visited, and pieces of plastic that I recently found.

CL: When not collecting, planning, and advocating, what else do you do to connect to the ocean?

PL: I surf. It’s the ultimate union with Earth’s energy.

CL: You’ve been awarded several art residencies, and also won Best Environmental Documentary for Drifters at the 2008 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. What’s been the most positive outcome of your work?

PL: People who have told me that they began recycling after seeing my exhibit.

Learn more about her extraordinary installations and read behind-the-scenes commentary in Drifters: Plastics, Pollution and Personhood, scheduled for release fall 2010. Buy an advanced copy at a discount, $25;