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From Trash To Art

What do a Westchester waste treatment plant, the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, a sculptor and a ribbon weaver have in common?  The answer will be revealed at an artist’s reception in the Atrium of the Tilles Center on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. , when the installation “Sea Change” will be unveiled.  

 

“Sea Change” is a collaborative effort of Glen Head sculptor, Barbara Grossman Karyo, and Locust Valley ribbon weaver, Sally Shore. The installation, created almost entirely of plastic items and other detritus invading our natural environment, evokes the experience of being underwater in a colorful, whimsical way and, at the same time, makes a very powerful statement about the damaging effects such waste has on our local waters.

 

The impetus for the project occurred in March of 2011 when millions of wagon wheel shaped, plastic disks used for water filtration accidentally escaped from an aeration tank under construction at a Westchester County-owned waste treatment plant in Mamaroneck. In no time, thousands of the little plastic disks washed up on the beaches throughout Long Island’s North Shore.  

 

The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor put out a call to its members to assist in beach clean-up and Barbara Karyo, active member of the coalition and Beach Captain for Tappen and Sea Cliff beaches, enlisted the help of friends, fellow artist Sally Shore among them. In the scope of just one hour coalition members and other volunteers collected approximately 23,000 of the disks. 

 

“It was a travesty,” said Shore when recalling that day. “Seeing all these disks just pushed me over the edge.”   The two artists stared at the bulging bags of disks and decided to “do something” with them.  

 

“I’m making a big fish out of all this,” said Karyo, with the intention of towing it to Mamaroneck to “make a statement.”  

 

Karyo, who had been experimenting with crocheting plastic, set out to create her fish by crocheting strips of plastic bags to form the fish’s body, using the plastic disks for the scales. In the meantime, Shore began incorporating the disks into strands of on-hand ribbons and other fibers to recreate the effect of the disks tangled up in seaweed. Although the five-foot-long fish never got towed to Mamaroneck, a larger project was conceived.

 

After receiving a grant from Art Under Glass, the friends set out on a year and a half long endeavor to create “Sea Change,” an explanatory display designed to encourage education about the environment, waste prevention and recycling.  The installation is almost entirely composed of leftover ribbons, discarded telephone wires, zip ties and twist ties, bubble wrap, discarded foil, Styrofoam peanuts, plastic bags,  old shoe laces and, of course, the ubiquitous plastic disks. 

 

Shore created the vast underwater environment, including the surface of the water and all the vegetation.  Karyo was responsible for creating the oversized fish that swim through it.  In addition to the original five-foot-long disk fish, the environment now includes a shark, a seahorse, a blowfish and an eight-foot-long octopus.  “Hundreds of plastic bags were used to create the fish,” said Karyo.  “The octopus alone used 80 bags per tentacle.”   

 

Barbara Karyo holds an MFA in painting and ceramics from the Pratt Institute and works primarily in clay. She is known for her playful,  three-legged tea pots as well as her protest art highlighting issues of the environment and women’s equality. She is a professor of art at Suffolk Community College’s Selden campus.

 

Sally Shore received a BFA from Kent State University in Ohio and works primarily with ribbons and fibers.  She is known for her exquisite evening bags, tri-axial weave wall hangings and intricate beaded jewelry. Shore provides private and small group instruction at her Glen Cove studio.

 

Neither artist had worked collaboratively before.  

 

“We were both used to working alone,” said Karyo.  “This experience was both challenging and enjoyable.”  

 

Karyo and Shore were supported in their project by fellow artists from the Long Island Craft Guild and other friends of theirs who helped collect materials and sterilize all the disks. Shore documented the entire process from its inception in her blog, which can be found at sallyshorefiberart.artspan.com/blog  under the heading “Reclaiming the Beach.”   

 

Since 2006, the Art Under Glass project at the Tilles Center at LIU/Post, on Route 25A in Brookville, has been bringing visual art to public spaces highlighting “Long Island’s best, cutting edge, avant-garde,  local sculptors and artists.”  The current installation, “Sea Change,” will run through July 2014.