It looks remarkably like pasta in different shapes and sizes arranged on many white ceramic plates, but it’s actually an artwork composed of white toothbrushes, eyeglass frames, toys, hair curlers, container fragments, and other plastic trash. Richard Lang MFA’73 created For Here or to Go (above) as a jarring reminder that the stuff we discard often returns to us as microplastics in our food.
Another artwork, a large, multicolored fish with vivid blue fins and tail (below), turns out to be composed of bottle caps in different colors and sizes. Yet another, Ghost Net Monster, is made from more than 450 pounds of fishing nets and other plastics found inside the stomach of a dead whale that washed up on a beach.
Lang and his wife, Judith Selby Lang, began picking up plastic trash on the beach near their home in Marin County in Northern California in 1999. Then more. And more. Sorting it by color and shape, the couple ultimately picked up more than two tons of plastic trash from a single beach, Kehoe Beach, on the Point Reyes National Seashore, and started converting it to art installations. The pair fittingly call themselves One Beach Plastic.
Lang’s awareness of ecological problems dates back to his MFA days at the UW, when he won a grant for materials and a stipend to build a sculpture on Lake Mendota’s shore.