A new documentary reveals the beauty and horror of plastic waste
Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang are best known as the force behind San Francisco’s Electric Works gallery. But as collaborative artists, they have been producing a steady stream of sculptures, prints, installations, and jewelry from washed-up plastic debris collected over a decade from Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes, California.
Their work is a response to a looming environmental crisis: the plastic pollution that fills our seas. But Richard and Judith are not your stereotypical environmental doomsayers and their work doesn’t paint the depressing picture one might expect. In One Plastic Beach, a short documentary about the couple, my collaborator Eric Slatkin and I hope to reveal the artists’ fervor for collecting detritus while showcasing the beauty, color, texture, and meticulously considered compositions of their work.
Rifling through their vast treasure troves of sorted and catalogued plastic objects, Richard and Judith pull out a worn cereal-box toy at random and talk about it with great fondness. Their blog reads like an archaeological record of plastic waste, telling the stories behind favorite finds.
If their implicit message is to produce less plastic waste, is it counterproductive to present such items in a positive light? What role does art play in driving social change? When asked, Richard and Judith note that their work offers them entry into a conversation about the problem of plastic pollution. They are outspoken about the issues their art raises and can recite a dizzying list of facts and statistics on the condition of our oceans. In the end, viewers are left to grapple with a familiar conundrum: the dangers concealed behind the allure of cheap consumables.
—Tess Thackara, producer, One Plastic Beach
Tess Thackara is a writer, editor, and award-winning producer. A U.K. native, Tess lives and works in San Francisco. She is a senior editor for Art Practical and a contributor to SFMOMA’s blog Open Space and BOMB Magazine, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @tessthackara.
Eric Slatkin is a Webby Award-winning filmmaker based in San Francisco. He is the co-founder of the Disposable Film Festival, and runs various projects that focus on the intersection of technology and culture. Find him online at ericslatkin.com