Art for the oceans
Artist Brodie Neill hopes his works encourage people to curb their use of single‑use plastics.
Every year, more than eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our oceans. The impact is alarming; beyond creating devastation to marine life, plastic has now entered every level of the ocean food chain and is ending up on our plates. In an effort to create awareness around the subject, Tasmanian artist Brodie Neill has developed a new material, which he has coined ‘ocean terrazzo’, created out of this plastic waste. He has used it extensively across his artworks, including his recently acclaimed ‘Drop in the Ocean’ installation at the ME Hotel for the London Design Festival.
How did you come up with the idea for ocean terrazzo?
Ocean terrazzo is made from all the very fine fragments of plastic, which circle the world’s oceans. When plastic is dumped into the ocean, it slowly breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually, it gets down to this pellet-like form, which, unfortunately, is the perfect fish food. It’s known as microplastic. I’ve always been interested in reclaimed materials – and when I started learning about ocean plastic, I started thinking about how I could put this waste product to good use as a design material. Through a network of beachcombers, coastal care groups and environmental agencies, we bring it into our London studio where it is cleaned, sorted and prepared – then reconstituted into this material. Most of it comes from Hawaii, which is the worst-affected area because of the direction of the ocean currents.
What have been some of your most significant projects that use this material?
Last year, I put together a collection of works for the Australian Pavilion at the London Design Biennale. It included the Gyro table, which was made from ocean terrazzo. This year’s Drop in the Ocean piece for the London Design Festival included a ripple pool made from ocean terrazzo, which sat in the atrium at the ME Hotel. The installation featured a drop of water. which fell 100 feet from the top of the building and landed in the pool. The ripple disperses and then comes roaring back up the walls, projected as an ocean wave. It symbolises how something very small can have dramatic consequences.
What encouraged you to incorporate ocean themes into your work?
There has always been a maritime theme to my work. I grew up in Tasmania and went to art school down on the docks there in Hobart. I’d literally be gazing out the window onto all the boats coming in. My work will often feature hull shapes or fluid forms. The Cowrie chair, for example, was inspired by the concave forms of seashells. I also adopt boat-making techniques into my furniture, so it’s not just the shape or the material; it’s the process and the method.
What sort of boat-making techniques do you use?
One of my most well-known pieces is the Remix – a multi-coloured, chaise-longue. It is made from reclaimed materials from construction sites and carved out into this very beautiful form. That piece is made in Italy in the same yard that makes Wally Yachts. The technology and attention to detail needed to make it is only possible with yacht builders. It’s quite funny to see this chaise, which is only 2 metres long, sitting next to these gigantic boats.
What message do you want your work to send out?
I hope that my work inspires people and makes them try to curb their use of plastics, especially single-use plastics. Plastic bags are my biggest pet hates. But there are many culprits. From toothbrushes to drinking straws – the list goes on. If we could all just be more conscious of the butterfly effect that we have on the world, it would be great. There are lots of people doing things in this space – even Adidas and Stella McCartney are doing collections made from ocean plastics – but I think the solution really lies in the culmination of all of theses ideas. There’s no one quick fix.