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When whatever the ocean washes ashore is transformed into art

Every summer three friends cut themselves off from the city life and venture into the Icelandic wilderness where whatever the ocean washes ashore is transformed into art; colourful plastic, old shoes, bottles, and fishing nets.

The trio´s initiative, the art exhibition Arctic Creatures, comes at a time when the UN Secretary-General has declared an “Oceans Emergency” at the United Nations Oceans Conference in Lisbon. Although they are neither campaigners for the environment nor activists, who help clean coasts of plastic debris, they are fully aware of the dire straits of the sea.

The Betrayal / Arctic Creatures
The Betrayal / Arctic Creatures

They say they get inebriated by the power of the natural forces; creation, destruction and recreation.

Arctic Creatures

Their different professions spark off startling scenarios, Óskar Jónasson, is a film director, Hrafnkell Sigurðsson, a visual artist, and Stefán Jónsson, an actor and theatre director. Originally, they took photos to show friends and family on social media, but now they are on display at an exhibition in Reykjavík, Iceland and published in a book under the name The Arctic Creatures.

When the three friends are hiking in Iceland´s raw and pure environment, they are often faced with the contrasts of the pristine nature and human pollution.

Messages from civilization

Lifestyle/ Arctic Creatures
Lifestyle/ Arctic Creatures

“Sometimes when we have been on a long hike far-away from human settlements, weird things that we discover on the beach seem like messages from civilization”, says film director Óskar Jónasson. “It can be quite old since it has taken plastic such a long time to reach this remote place. It happens that we treat this plastic rubbish like invaluable treasures.”

“We are, however, drawing attention to this pollution,” theatre director and actor Stefán Jónsson says. All of this stuff is made by humans, colourful and transformed by the currents of the oceans. There is certain beauty in it, when it is put into our context. Ideas are born when we are hiking, based on what we have found. Then we put it, so to speak, on stage.“

How much is out there?

Óskar Jónasson says that their experience confirms that reports of the amount of plastic in the sea are not exaggerated.

The Sacrifice/ Arctic Creatures
The Sacrifice/ Arctic Creatures

“Without any doubt. On the beaches you only see a tiny fraction of what is in the sea. There is so much floating around, sometimes partly submerged, not to mention what lies on the bottom of the ocean. And one can´t help wondering: if there are tons of it in every fjord, how much is out there?“

For a fishing-nation, which prides itself on its sustainable fisheries, it is hard to accept the amount of fishing gear – more often than not from plastic-, that washes up on the coast.

Fishing gear is everywhere

Even a quick look at the Arctic Creatures photo exhibit confirms that fishing nets and ropes are everywhere, as well as helmets, gloves, and boots. And many of the one million plastic bottles produced every minute in the world end their lives on the beaches of the remote, sparsely populated, and isolated coastal regions of Iceland.

“Of course it is understandable that nets and fishing gear are torn from ships in extremely bad weather, but this is something else,“ says Óskar Jónasson. “I was recently told that the crew of an Icelandic trawler was told not to throw rubbish in the sea within four miles of the coast. Presumably, it is then ok to do it further away from the shore-line, right?”

Endangered Species /Arctic Creatures
Endangered Species /Arctic Creatures

Stefán Jónsson agrees and points out that what is visible is perhaps preferable to what you can´t see.

“Plastic pollution in the sea is a fact and what we can actually see and pick up is perhaps a lesser evil than the stuff that breaks down and is swallowed by fish and eventually eaten by humans”.

“But as sad as this is”, Stefán Jónsson continues, “our trips are the moments when we enjoy each others´ company and let our imagination, humour and creativity loose. We celebrate the creation in all its forms. And we are a part of it, both the nature and what humanity has done to it, by not keeping its act together. We are a part of it all”.


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