In 1907 the first fully synthetic plastic was invented, meaning it contained no particles that naturally occurred in nature. Just over a century later, this once incredibly helpful invention has bred a variety of long-term damaging effects, one of the largest issues being plastic pollution. Although this was not the initial narrative artist and photographer Stuart Haygarth had in mind, it ended up being communicated through his project Strand.
When Haygarth was commissioned by the University College London Hospitals to create a permanent display in their UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre, his original intent was to create an installation that would allow him to go on a journey, parallel to what those diagnosed with cancer experience.
“To create the artwork I decided that I wanted to put myself through a physical and mental journey. Historically the sea was viewed as uncharted territory, the unknown and greatly feared; the coastline is the threshold between land and sea,” he told Feature Shoot.
For 38 days, Haygarth walked the coastline of England, from Grave’s End to Land’s End, which is about 450 miles. While walking the beaches he collected all of the man-made objects he found.
“The most common objects are PET containers for soft drinks, but these were not of any visual interest to me. Surprisingly, tampon applicators and disposable cigarette lighters are scattered along the coast in large numbers.”
He then sorted the objects by color, and while some were arranged into images for a photo series, others were used to create a massive hanging installation piece that now resides over the reception desk inside the center.
Whether the installation represents the turbulent journey associated with cancer diagnosis or the infinite life of plastic garbage in our oceans, the installation’s place suspended in the air serves as a symbolic reminder that pollution and cancer are issues hanging over all of our heads.