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Local art exhibit features reclaimed trash to raise awareness for ocean sustainability

West Vancouver's Silk Purse hosts Diving In: Turning Trash into Treasure until May 28. Pieces are being auctioned with part of the funds going toward creating a companion documentary.

There’s a deadly presence lurking beneath the ocean’s surface, but it’s not the razor teeth of sharks or the clutch of the kraken.

It’s the heaps of trash tossed there by humans.

Until May 28, the Silk Purse Art Centre in West Vancouver is hosting Diving In: Turning Trash Into Treasure, a travelling exhibition featuring local mixed-media artists whose works are made of some of that ghastly garbage collected from the water.

The exhibit is part of the Lower Mainland and Sea to Sky’s first environmental art campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the waste in lakes and oceans by transforming collected refuse into art.

The campaign is a collaboration between seven local art councils: West Vancouver Arts Council, North Van Arts, Pemberton Arts Council, Arts Whistler, Squamish Arts Council, Lions Bay Arts, and The Hearth Arts on Bowen.

Materials for the project were collected by Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Return-It, local artists, and school groups.

Community volunteers came together for shoreline cleanups, including two in West Van and one in North Van.

The diving group carried out 57 dives, collecting nearly 5,000 kilograms of trash during underwater cleanups in 2021.

Each arts council selected artists from its community, who were given a bag of rubbish, containing everything from swimming goggles to golf balls.

The finished works, which will tour through the participating municipalities throughout the year, are available to buy in an online auction, with proceeds being split between the artists and the production of a documentary about the campaign.

‘Ghost Nets’: Cath Hughes illustrates beauty and threat

The cutting edges of coiled pop cans twist into a sharp, metallic mesh that encroaches on a small school of fish.

For her piece, North Vancouver-based artist Cath Hughes was interested in showing the beauty and threat of what is known as ghost gear: lost or abandoned fishing equipment, the most harmful form of marine debris.

She titled it “Ghost Nets” to draw attention to the issue.

It’s a huge problem, Hughes noted, with the disused gear making up almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a 1.6-million square kilometre zone of accumulated offshore plastic.

“[Ghost gear] continues to fulfill its purpose of catching creatures,” Hughes said. “So it's kind of like a floating graveyard.”

But she didn’t want to show that aspect. You can go online to find plenty of footage of trapped turtles and things like that.

“I wanted to just give it that sort of air of, well, ghostliness, actually,” Hughes said. “[The nets are] kind of beautiful because they're all glisten-y, but they're also really, really sharp.”

The artist said the project made her think more about sustainability in art practice. “It's really piqued my interest in exploring waste as a material, even more than I have, and how you can transform it.”

People interested in this event can check out Creative Voices: Art and the Environment this Sunday (May 15), a walk along the Ambleside shoreline with divers, experts and the exhibiting artists.

West Vancouver Memorial Library is also hosting Renewal: Teen Eco-Art Exhibit until May 28, a companion exhibition featuring local teens.

Diving In will travel to CityScape Community ArtSpace in North Vancouver starting Aug. 6.

Creative Voices: Art and the Environment

When: Sunday, May 15 at 11 a.m.

Where: Silk Purse Arts Centre

Renewal: Teen Eco-Art Exhibit

When: Until May 28

Where: West Vancouver Memorial Library

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