The beaches of Bali have a serious trash problem. But all that plastic and those lost flip-flops you see in the surf and on the sands are only a small part of the problem. German artist liina klauss has spent much of her career raising awareness about what happens to our plastic waste once it leaves the shoreline and floats deeper into the oceans.
She collected more than 5,000 lost shoes and flip-flops for a beautifully colorful installation about a dirty problem at Bali's Potato Head Beach Club. VICE's Sattwika Duhita called up klauss to learn more about the challenges facing our oceans.
VICE: How big of a problem is all that plastic litter floating in the waters off Bali?
liina klauss: It is a very big issue during this time. This is a problem that we have in Bali, but it is also problem that I have seen in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Britain where I also built the installation. So the pollution is a very serious threat and it’s been ignored for a long time.
Why should people care about the plastic in ocean?
First of all, it affects us on very simple visual level because people don’t want to see a polluted beach. It is a serious threat for tourism in Bali. But a much more serious threat is that plastic breaks down into smaller sizes, which is called microplastic, and is absorbed by organisms in the ocean. And the organism is eaten by smaller fish. And then smaller fish eaten by bigger fish, and humans eat the fish. Then we eat our own plastic. Also the plastic contains different type of toxins. We’re eating these toxins.
Why flips-flops? Where did you find them?
There are so many of them. And they also have a pretty color. My background is in visual art, so I am interested in the color. I want people to have a direct connection between marine pollution and their own daily life. We wear flip-flops, everyone in Southeast Asia wears sandals, no matter how poor or rich they are. So this is something closer to our body. It is something that we make connection with. That is the reason why I choose flip-flops.
What would have happened if you don’t pick them up?
This is what happens of most of marine pollution: the wastes, like plastic, comes from land, and it is washed into the ocean. It will be trapped in what we call gyres. Gyres are a circular water flow in the ocean. There are gyres that are full of the plastic. The plastic is trapped. If we don’t clean up the beach, the garbage will go into this gyres and the ocean waste slowly breaks it down. Then the microorganisms will digest it and it all will come back to us.
How long did it take to get all those flip-flops?
I started in 2017, and we went to the beach six times for the clean-ups. In the beginning, it was One Island One Voice that initiated the clean up.
How does art and activism work together?
Art has the capacity to show a problem. It wants you to see. Activism does the same too right? So together, art and activism can create a stronger voice.
Do you ever feel pessimistic about the ocean's future?
We gotta do it now. Because if we don’t, I don’t know how we can survive on this planet. We need a change of habit. We really need to set this as priority. The pollution can destroy the human system.
Are you ever worried that it is too late?
You know you won't get anywhere if you think that way. The only thing to make it happen is to work on it. The only way to have a creative and sustainable solution is to take action. This is how to make it happen.
What about the people who say, but OK this is just a sculpture. It has no real world impact. It's not like it stops the ocean from being polluted.
Well, this it the first step. When you want people to know the problem, you have to make them see it. The sculpture that I created is not the solution. But it is the first step in solving the problem. And from there we need to work together on the real solution and inventing material that 100 percent degradable.
Do you think people know how big of a problem this is?
I think people are aware of it, but they are not aware that this problem is getting even more serious. We are the consumers, so we have the responsibility on what we buy. If we don’t have a choice at the moment, then we only have plastic as a choice.