Alejandro Durán posing in front of his installation at the Cercle Cité on Thursday
Photo: Delano staff
The red plastic debris leading up the main staircase at Cercle Cité on Thursday was striking, causing participants arriving at the Luxembourg Sustainability Forum to stop and reflect.
The installation is the brainchild of Alejandro Durán, a Mexico City-born multimedia artist who is based in Brooklyn, New York (US). The plastic debris had been found washed up along the beaches of Sian Ka’an, the largest federally protected reserve in Mexico.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but unfortunately it’s covered in trash,” Durán said, as he shared with forum participants the genesis and evolution of his “Washed Up” project, which takes the flotsam and transforms it into striking, poignant works of art.
Plastic from Jamaica to China
Upon first visiting the Sian Ka’an area, Durán was confused, thinking locals were perhaps using the shoreline as a dumping ground. Upon further investigation, he was surprised to discover that the plastic debris was arriving from around the world.
There were “Wata” brand water bottles from Jamaica. Plastic butter containers from Haiti. (The strangest item he found was a prosthetic leg.) There was also plastic waste from as far as China and South Korea.
“It’s a paradox, but many of these items are cleaning products,” he said.
Those who have seen the result of Durán’s work are often curious whether he has painted or in some way coloured the plastic, but that’s not the case: much of the labour-intensive part of his work involves separating the colours of plastic he finds. The rarest is purple, Durán said, adding: “Purple is like gold for me.”
In his first test shot, he photographed blue plastic debris in front of the ocean, and this quickly evolved. In his “Amanecer (Dawn)” image, he counted a total of 592 clear PDT water bottles, arranged so they appear almost as an estuary. His “Derrame (Spill)” shot, created with a colourful assortment of lids and caps, appears as a rainbow set of puddles, part of some fantastical world. On closer look, it is reminiscent almost of colourful drops of oil on water, like an oil spill.
Linking education and art
He later had the idea to combine the photographs with installations, like the one shown in Luxembourg on Thursday. “It’s like garbage is spilling out,” Durán said. “The message is obvious.”
In 2015, Durán held his first exhibition in the town and, over the years, he has spent a lot of his time working with children and organising beach hunts, to raise awareness on cleaning up beaches.
For some time, he wasn’t sure what to do with the plastic pieces after using it for his art, but he says once he came up with the answer, it was pretty obvious. “I’ll reuse them again and again.”