Marina DeBris has a Passion for Trashion

With a powerful concoction of beauty and devastation, artist and activist Marina DeBris sheds light on our current ocean waste epidemic.

As the tide swells and chews at the shoreline along Gordons Bay, Sydeysiders are busy with their fast lives, caught up in the swell of city living. Sadly, most are unaware of the sinister waste below the surface of their spectacular ocean views. 

Gordon’s Bay a mere 15 minutes walk from Coogee’s bustling centre, is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing and snorkeling. The views are world-class and simply breathtaking. But below the crystalline teal waters the ocean is doing its best to accommodate masses of plastic and other types of waste.

While carefully dodging the glistening bluebottles each morning, Marina DeBris picks through piles of salted sand, shells and seaweed to collect choice pieces of trash before returning to her studio.  “I never come home empty-handed,” she says.

That is where she makes most of her creations, including the components of her latest Sculptures by the Sea installation, aptly named the Inconvenience Store. The mock-shopfront tied for the People’s Choice award at last years Sculptures by the Sea exhibition in Bondi. Marina says that shows people are hungry to know more about how their consumption habits affect our environment – even though it’s a really tough issue to face.

“Every time I’m untangling fishing gear I think, ‘I have hands to be able to do this’… These animals getting caught in the mess aren’t as fortunate.”

The Inconvenience Store looks like any other relaxed Aussie general store – until you go inside. It’s full of carefully arranged collections of debris. Fishing gear, cutlery, postcards, even clothing has all made the journey from production to purchase, to home, then disposal before being recycled into the store.

Marina, who has always been an activist, took the leap into tackling ocean waste while working with the group Five Gyres six years ago. She chooses to go by Marina when presenting her work to the public as it serves as a marker between her activism and personal life.

In the near future she wants to work more closely with animal organisations which spread awareness of the environmental impact of animal product consumption and cruelty. Awareness of animal cruelty, she says firmly, is “where my heart truly lies”.

It’s hard not to picture the people who once used the wrappers, shards of cutlery and bottle lids she collects. You wish they had some understanding of where their discarded utensils went. 

The holiday season especially brings masses of waste. Early this year, Marina recalls,  she collected dozens of bright red santa hats that had trapped a blanket of sea urchins as they bobbed in the current, their purple spines tangled in the thick red and white fluff.

She’s not sure what she’ll make with the hats, so for now they lie patiently in her studio alongside other piles of debris, each serving as a small wasteful monument  to our less-than-jolly wastage.

Albatross images by artist and activist Chris Jordan, photos of inconvenience store by Jennifer Soo, time lapse of inconvenience store by photographer Gareth Carr. Artworks modeled by Rachel Buch. 

Video produced by Caitlyn Hurley.