Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Worldview: One Piece at a Time

Guest post by Judith Selby and Richard Lang

Judith Selby and Richard Lang are artists who collaborate in an ongoing project to collect plastic along Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. They also recount their adventures in Plastic Forever, the blog they jointly manage. This is a  follow-up post to last week’s Snaphot on Seeing the Woods. All photographs are courtesy of the authors.

For related content about the journey and transformation of waste, take a look at our RCC Perspectives volumes: Out of Sight, Out of Mind and A Future without Waste?


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Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang with “Trophy Fish.”

Our story is one of human inventiveness and metamorphosis. It is about how the simple act of picking up trash landed us on national TV, with money in our pockets to continue the work we love, to begin a marriage, and to lose ourselves in a compelling vocation. All of this forged in the crucible of trying to make a visual blight into something good to look at. So, yes, it is about art making. But we wish to point out that in this era of everything standing in for everything else, a world made meaningless by the glut of meanings, something of consequence happened. Bending over, picking up, bending over, picking up one piece at a time. Several tons of plastic collected—one piece at a time.

In 1999, information about a mysterious patch of garbage in the middle of the North Pacific was just beginning to roll in. Charles Moore, a boat captain returning from the Transpacific Yacht Race, came across a befuddling density of plastic. He engaged the help of oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, and their research showed some alarming results. On the planktonic level, plastic particles numbered six-times the number of living creatures. Plastic does not “biodegrade”—as it floats in the ocean, it is simply broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, wearing down to the molecular level. Plastic enters the food chain with some ugly results. Albatross chicks have died by the thousands with their gullets filled with plastic. Chemicals leach out of debris, creating a disruption in the sensitive endocrine systems of birds, fish, and mammals. Dangerous levels of toxins are showing up in humans. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Plastic Beach

Guest post by Judith Selby and Richard Lang

Judith Selby and Richard Lang are artists who collaborate in an ongoing project to collect plastic along Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. They also recount their adventures in Plastic Forever, the blog they jointly manage. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on their work on Seeing the Woods.

A casual diversion—an amusement—turns into an enthusiasm, turns into a life’s work.

Why create art out of the tons of plastic we’ve found? Why make these objects and show them in an art context? And since we want our art to engage the polity, to inspire action, are we simply making more propaganda?

At first glance, our project is about evidence gathered to address the consequences of marine born plastic garbage in our oceans. The evidence, in this case, has been gleaned from just one beach: Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California. But it is about more than that. It is the story of being witness to how a creative life is lived. It’s not about creative arts, per se. That yes, but it’s also about the implications creative energy has for any endeavor.

Sometimes, beauty can be a call to action. Here the call to action is to follow some simple rules of planetary housekeeping; but in a larger sense, the call to action is to follow those strange voices of inspiration each of us possesses, if we dare to listen. We know after years on the beach and in the studio, the real opposite of beauty is indifference.


This is part one of a two-part post about Judith and Richard’s ongoing work collecting and transforming waste into art. For related content about the journey and transformation of waste, take a look at our RCC Perspectives volumes: Out of Sight, Out of Mind and A Future without Waste?