The images of SHELF-LIFE are simultaneously hypnotising and terrifying. Various pieces of plastic and other bits of waste are stacked against a black backdrop, and look like they’re floating in an endless, hopeless, underwater abyss. The plastic pieces range from microscopic to huge, and the affect of searching the ten pieces like magic eye tricks is pretty severe.
To create these pieces, British photographer Mandy Barker travelled with a group of scientists to Henderson Island, an uninhabited island in the larger Pitcairn Island Group. On the 2019 visit, she collected various pieces of plastic that had washed up on shore. In these images the range of polluting items is evident. There’s everything from toothbrushes, to toy soldiers, to a broken toilet seat. While the plastic is arranged in entrancing and fascinating compositions, there’s no escape from the suffocating volume of rubbish used to make them.
To make more direct critiques, Barker uses barcodes from the rubbish as the titles for each piece. There’s no mystery to the source of this disturbing pollution. To make more corporate critiques, colourful brand names occasionally take centre stage. SHELF-LIFE is a worrying and captivating exhibition that has the potential to move viewers towards action.
Dizzying political photography.