The plastic trash that washes up on Bali’s beaches is something I give a lot of thought to. And a fair amount of energy, too. The problem is multifaceted, and has become a chronic one. Looking at beach trash in new ways can help us to increase our awareness and understanding of waterborne garbage. Art and garbage go together well, and there have been many positive projects around the world in which plastic beach trash is transformed into an art material. Or the subject of art photography.
When you walk your local beach to scavenge plastic stuff for artworks, you become acutely aware of what kinds of junk there are on the beach. Your thoughts automatically flow into cohesive and constructive channels. Why so many cigarette lighters here? Who consumes these packaged snacks? What community used all of this Pepsodent toothpaste? How come there are so many lightbulbs along this stretch of sand? What were these large chunks of styrofoam used for and by whom?
You begin to think about the sources of the types of trash you discover, and the proportion of this type of stuff, or that. It helps you to get your mind around the huge but vague problem of problematic, damaging, and ugly junk that people use, throw away, and send downstream then out onto our beaches. Constructive, creative, and relevant ideas start to form about how to solve the problem, where to start, and with what specific actions. Then, if you use scavenged beach trash as an art material, everyone who sees your artworks is drawn to contemplate the problem, to countenance it, and to do so from a fresh perspective.
Tanah Lot’s Prettier Little Sister
On Friday morning I went down to one of my favourite local beaches, beside the Batungaus temple in the Mengening district of Mengwi, with no thought or purpose about what I would do at the beach, for how long or why. The purpose was just beach time. I hadn’t been to Batungaus for a couple of years. Arriving there, you take a small road heading for the coast, that bursts out on a hairpin bend on top of a cliff over the sea. You always go “wow” at this point. I did. Then you see the almost-too-scenic-to-be-real temple, Pura Batungaus, perched on a rocky promontory dashed by breaking surf. It’s sometimes referred to as “Little Tanah Lot”, but I hope it doesn’t go the way Tanah Lot has (tour bus mecca where bleary motion-sick grockles are slaughtered by aggressive souvenir sellers).
Photo Marco Waagmeester 2012
Peace is still pretty much guaranteed at Batungaus, and on Friday there was nobody there but me. Checked the view from the rocks, then looked down onto the sparkling black sand beach stretching westward for kilometers. It was moderately marred by garbage, much of which was organic stuff, bits of trees, and Balinese offering leaves, coconuts and washed-away underbrush. The backshore was covered by drifts of this stuff, that’s happily, actually “good” for the shoreline. A pile-up of this type of debris creates more organic material, and a medium for plant and other organisms to get busy forming soil. Prevents erosion. It’s a shame, actually, that down in Kuta and Seminyak, the diligent beach cleaning agencies and hotel beach boys bulldoze all this unsightly stuff up and bury or burn it, thus contributing to shoreline erosion, which has become a very serious threat to Bali’s most popular beaches.
Sandals, Sandals Everywhere, and Nary a Foot to Shoe
Now, getting to the point. At Batungaus beach. These drifts of random debris are absolutely littered with . . . I kid you not . . . footwear! Everywhere you look there are sandals, crocs, and the odd trainer or little boot. It’s a footwear fetishist’s heaven. How did this happen? The sea sorts the flotsam and jetsam of Bali’s badly-behaved consumers who throw their rubbish wherever they feel like throwing it. Through their distinctive balance of buoyancy and fluid dynamics, millions of sandals get sorted by wave and current action, and delivered eventually, to this one particular beach. It’s true. Go see for yourself.
I walked for miles, and saw sandals everywhere. Everywhere. Big ones, little ones, complete ones, busted-up ones, feminine ones, macho ones, in all the colours sandals come in. Sandals, I mused, seem inert and unoffensive, compared to, say, plastic bags and medical waste. They are not. They are an environmental horror. The sandals scattered across Batungaus beach seem almost decorative. And they are. Their colours are jolly and bright. Repetition of the standard sandal shape, in all its myriad variations, forms visual patterns that are somehow pleasing to behold. And extremely disturbing at the same time. All those feet! All those people! So, where are their cigarette lighters, plastic bags, water bottles, disposable diapers, toothbrushes and crisps packets? Those types of rubbish have perhaps been pre-sorted by Mother Ocean and delivered to other beaches. There must be a bottle-top beach somewhere near here. A syringe beach. A disposable spoon beach. A ballpoint pen beach. How intriguing. Somebody should make a map.
Stunned and fascinated, surveying thousands upon thousands of scattered sandals, I took out my iPhone 4S and began taking snaps. Not really thinking of artistic ends, just to prove it was real. I posted a handful of the snaps in a Facebook album. Not a single sandal was disturbed in the making of these images. I shot them all in situ and without intervention. Sandals, sandals everywhere, and nary a foot to shoe.
At the end of the beach, near a river estuary, the concentration of sandals was at its maximum. Solid sandals as far as the eye could see, on the beach, and up the backshore into the bushes and vines. Sandals sandals sandals. There’s a large house down there at the end of the beach, where I noticed some of the sandals had been raked up into piles, evidently in an effort to keep the bosses’ beach neat and clean. Were the sandals to be sorted and recycled or upcycled? Set aside as art materials? Nope. They were burning slowly, in mounds of charred synthetic mess. What a waste.
Somebody gather up a gang of youthful and kooky people and get down to Batungaus beach to harvest the sandal bonanza.
Best Foot Forward for a Better Future
Looking at the river estuary, my assessment is this spot is perfect for installing a properly designed trash boom. I’ll do a blog post on trash booms and Bali garbage soon. Stay tuned. And contact me if you need the coordinates of this mysterious beach where old sandals gather festively on the foreshore. Meanwhile, check out these sites for inspiration and information.