Alejandro Durán’s Washed Up Photographs at Brooklyn’s Habana Outpost

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Last night, on Earth Day, Habana Outpost, Brooklyn’s first solar-powered restaurant, hosted an exhibition of Mexican artist Washed Up photographic series with the screening of a short documentary film on the series directed by Stefanie Durán. 

Durán has recently received a Project Launch Juror’s Award from CENTER, for this project

Durán’s photographic series Washed Up addresses plastic pollution reaching the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sian Ka’an on the Caribbean coast of Yucatán, Mexico’s largest federally protected reserve. The reserve is home to more than twenty pre-Columbian archeological sites and is the habitat for “a vast array of flora and fauna and the world second largest coastal barrier reef.” Sharing the habitat with this flora and fauna are thousands of cubic feet of plastic deposited on its shores by ocean currents.

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Sian Ka’an is unfortunately located in an ideal geography for the deposit of marine debris, a reality not lost to Durán and having played a role in his selection of the site as the focus of his work. Sian Ka’an illustrates perfectly the interconnectedness of the Caribbean Sea and the rest of the planet. Exposed to the northeast blowing Caribbean Current, the beaches of Sian Ka’an receive larger amounts of foreign plastic debris than other Caribbean territories.

Durán’s project focuses on the depiction, primarily through the photography of the sculptures and installations he had constructed with marine debris on the beaches of Sian Ka’an, of a landscape tainted by plastic. The work originated during a visit to Cancún in February 2010, where the artist was struck by the volume of plastic garbage sharing the habitat with the more than 300 types of birds and hundreds of mammals that call Sian Ka’an their habitat. “When I first witnessed the sheer quantity of garbage along the coast, I was awestruck and disgusted,” Durán has explained. “I saw aesthetic possibilities in the colorful plastic,” he says. Toying with light and composition, he has since created a number of unique sculptural formations out of the refuse and photographs them, blurring natural and unnatural elements in a process he calls “alchemizing the ugliness.”

His goal, as he has stated in several interviews, was that of creating a series that would raise consciousness about consumerism and denounce the increasing contamination coming from countries as far away as Japan and Indonesia, of what is ironically being preserved as a World Heritage Center that highlights the indigenous history of Mexico and the unpolluted environments that speak to the world these indigenous populations inhabited before the advent of colonialism. His insistence on sculpting the plastic into rivers and other forms that fuse with or complement the landscape points to the irony of plastic replacing nature in a polluted preserve that is victim to forces outside its local control. “By populating pristine coastal environments with color-coordinated plastic detritus, he undermines the genre of landscape photography to expose our careless consumption of synthetic products and the fossil fuels from which they are derived.” With his carefully sorted and precisely arranged flotsam and jetsam, a critic has noted, he creates beguiling, site-specific sculptures, in which the foreign objects appear as an evolutionary outgrowth in a new world order.

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Durán sees his work as a first step in fundraising to being awareness to the plight of Sian Ka’an and create environmental awareness projects for the children of local communities to enhance efforts to clean the ocean debris, in recognition that the local authorities lack the funding necessary to emphasize the cleaning of the beaches in a sustainable way. Part of this project includes his Museo de la Basura en la Selva, an event scheduled for Saturday, May 9, 2015, from 1:00pm to 5:00pm at the Xo Ki’in Retreat Center of the Sian Ka’am Biosphere Reserve. The single-day exhibition will feature a photo series and site-specific installations by the artist.

The installations are photographed with a large format camera, using 4 x 5 color negative film. Exhibition prints are 40” x 52” archival pigment prints. A short documentary film accompanies the current exhibition.

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