What this work of art is made of will surprise and disgust you.
This piece, “Human Mirror,” was created from plastics and debris that were washed up on the gorgeous beaches in Costa Rica.
Artist and Georgia State University art professor Pam Longobardi has made it a mission to use her art to draw attention to how we treat our earth. The vehicles for her message come in the form of luminous paintings, award-winning video, photography and halting installations using netballs and man-made debris that washes up on shores (more on this in the q&a.)
Her work is beautiful and vibrant, just like nature. But when you take a closer at what the art is made of, especially in her Drifters Project work, the shock sets in. Even if you’re environmentally conscientious, seeing her work and videos and photos will strengthen your resolve to keep the earth safe for our kids and their kids. Her upcoming book, Drifters – Plastics, Pollution and Personhood, compiles photos of the crazy things she finds during her beach explorations, along with illustrations inspired by her findings. (see more or order the book at Pam’s website)
Her work and her message have reached many, many people. She’s had over 30 solo exhibitions and 65 group exhibitions in galleries and museums all over the world, including China, the US, Italy, Spain, Finland, Japan and Poland. Be sure to see her piece that appeared during this past year’s prestigious Venice Biennale in the q&a below.
It’s also comforting to know that Pam, who received Georgia State University’s Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award, has been passing along her awareness of the importance of a respectful nature/human relationship to thousands of students. Personally, her lesson has made me stop and think “what else should I be doing right now?” When a message can penetrate like that, it’s art at its best.
See how it moves you and leave a comment or share tips on the little things we can do that make a difference for our environment.
tip: to enlarge photos just click on them
What are netballs? And how/when did you become aware of them?
Netballs are giant aggregate tangles of driftnet that have become tangled together in the ocean currents. I first became aware of them when I saw them in all their massiveness on the Big Island (Hawaii.)
What kind of art are you creating using the netballs and the debris inside of them?
I have been making ‘Driftwebs,’ web-like sculptures. The netballs do not contain much debris, just occasional pieces of plastic. The plastic tends to move and collect independently of the netballs. However, the nets do continue to trap fish and other creatures and so there is often a lot of ‘death’ in them. When they are loose out at sea they are called ‘ghost nets’ because they continue to fish.
You seem to work in a lot of different mediums, but do you favor a certain medium?
No, I generate ideas and energy from changing from one medium to another. But painting, installation and photography have been constants for many years.
What do you want the observer of your Drifters Project art to come away with?
I want people to reflect on what we do with the things we make and use and ultimately throw away. Where does all this stuff go? What does ‘disposable’ really mean? Disposable to where? We are on a finite planet. This material is our tragic legacy of our presence on earth.
Did your work prior to the Drifters Project have a message related to the environment or nature?
Yes. For over 2 decades my work has addressed the relationship of humans to the natural world, which, from my perspective, is a troubled relationship. I have examined it from many angles.
Where have you traveled to collect netballs? And is there any place you’ve not yet been that you’d like to go to?
I have collected plastic from Hawaii, Costa Rica, Italy, Taiwan, China and the US coasts. Netballs are predominantly a Pacific Ocean phenomenon. I really really want to go to Australia.
Is there a particular location that tends to wash up the largest netballs?
Hawaii does seem to get a lot of these because of its very remote location, but I am sure there are other sites, as well.
What are some of the oddest things you’ve seen washed up on shore?
Some of the oddest things I have found washed on shore: an early 70’s-style cordless phone made as a bottle, army men and camels with their limbs worn off like amputees, molten plastic blobs that look like fossils, and sadly, millions and millions of lighters, toothbrushes and combs.
I have also found objects with many different languages washed up in Hawaii, from Russian to Czech, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and of course English. Its global. You can see many pictures of the strange objects in my book, Drifters.
You have also made an award-winning documentary called “Drifters.” What is it about – and how can we see it?
It is a short film that documents my process of conceptualizing and making the first Driftweb. It was shot on location in Hawaii and there are many scenes of the massive plastic piles there. (copies can be ordered at Pam’s website; view the trailer here)
You recently exhibited in Venice, Italy as part of the Biennale. It seems your installation actually incorporated part of a building and a canal — can you talk about how you were able to create that piece?
I made two pieces. One was a black shipwreck with colored nets and plastic spilling out. Some of the plastic was from Hawaii and some of it I collected up and down the coast of Italy.
The shipwreck idea came from an image I have been haunted by for over 20 years: the Garbage Barge of New York, the ship full of garbage that had no place to port because the landfills were all full. It literally sailed around for several years. The piece in Venice, all made of plastic marine debris, is a metaphor for how we have been treating our planet and by extension, ourselves. This is our home. We have soiled it and we need to look at this and do something about it.
I also made a driftweb installation that I was able to suspend over a canal.
As an art professor, you cultivate students’ artistic abilities. Do you think we can teach our kids to become great artists or is there an innate talent that must be present?
I can teach students how to channel their interests, as well as help them learn to see. It’s about developing their eye, trusting their instincts, and tapping into their truest voice. What I can’t teach is drive, either you have that or you don’t, and if you don’t, you won’t make it as an artist. It’s a very difficult profession.
Proust Questionnaire for Pam Longobardi:
My favorite snack is: unsweetened carob chips
Don’t ask me to: witness any type of animal misuse or abuse
I would put into a time capsule : my book Drifters
My favorite place is: Hawaii, Costa Rica, Italy
When i have a creative block I: go outside and try to reconnect
My favorite mantra is: All life is connected. What we do to the Earth, we are doing to ourselves.