Skyscraper Stranding

The Whale That Will Live A Thousand Years

Made entirely of plastic pulled from the Pacific Ocean, the Bruges Whale is a haunting reminder of the amount of waste that’s in our waters. Its artists tell us more about how they assembled the massive sculpture.

The Whale That Will Live A Thousand Years

Blue whales live for about 80 to 90 years in the wild. This one, on the other hand, might live for one thousand. 

That’s because, barring a steel frame for support, it’s made entirely of plastic. Skyscraper is a four-storey tall installation created by the New York-based StudioKCA, formed from tonnes of plastic waste hauled out of the Pacific Ocean. The whale weighs around 5 tonnes — the weight of an adult elephant — and serves as uncomfortable, irrefutable proof of the staggering amounts of plastic waste that’s out there in the ocean today.

But more than just a reminder, it also serves as an ominous warning: That our trash will return to one day haunt us.

The whale was unveiled last week at the ArtScience Museum, the first stop of its inaugural Asia Pacific tour.  Its designers, Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang — who, with a team from the Hawaii Wildlife Fund had personally salvaged and sorted the whale’s plastic pieces from the ocean — were at the opening of the exhibition to speak more about Skyscraper. 

Because as powerful as the sight of an 11-metre tall whale made of real plastic from the ocean is, it still can’t quite speak for itself. We talk to designer Klimoski to learn more about the story behind the whale.

How did you get the plastic required to make the whale? 

Most of the plastic comes from 26 coastal clean-up efforts over the course of 4 months. We worked with the Hawaii Wildlife fund to collect around 5 tons of blue and white plastic in total and brought it back to our workshop, where we cleaned and shaped the pieces into Skyscraper.  I don’t know how many pieces we ended up using in the end, but they range from toothbrushes to empty 200-litre drums.

When you were out collecting the plastic, what was the experience like, seeing all that waste? 

I was surprised and a little saddened by the fact that we could go to a beach and spend all day cleaning it, only to come back the next day and find it covered in plastic again. And these are coves and beaches where there are no inhabitants for many kilometres in all directions.

So where did you get the idea for Skyscraper in the first place?

My partner Lesley and I were asked by the city of Bruges to create an artwork for the Bruges Triennial, based around the idea of “the Liquid City”.  We wanted to create a piece that talked about plastic waste in our oceans — really the first ‘liquid city’ — so we proposed creating a ‘skyscraper’ in the form of a massive breaching whale made with the plastic waste that flows from our cities, into that liquid city.

And the name—I feel there’s some irony behind it. What’s the meaning behind ‘Skyscraper’?

If you consider the ocean as the first “liquid city”, then a massive, breaching whale is its version of a Skyscraper, hence the name.  Also, it’s interesting for us to create the form of an animal out of man-made products, even some plastic parts (construction helmets, barricades, window and door frames) used in building those tall buildings.

Klimoski (centre) and his team ran a successful Kickstarter programme last year to raise funding to craft the whale. (Image: Ocean Recovery Alliance)

Conservation is obviously a topic you’re passionate about. Where does all this come from?

The natural environment is essential to what we create and how we create it. We’ve done several public installations and sculptures that try and visualise the amount of plastic waste we generate because plastic waste is so pervasive in all aspects of our daily lives.  I would say most of New York, where we’re based, understands plastic waste is a serious problem. I can tell you that our studio has almost completely eliminated the use of plastic bags and bottles from our daily routines. We’ve seen more and more companies looking to reuse waste materials in their products, and clients who are willing to allow us to experiment with reusing or reclaiming waste materials to create the spaces and objects we design for them.

What do you think has to be done to restore the oceans back to its natural state — if that’s possible at all?

There is a staggering amount of plastic waste in the ocean, and millions and millions of tons are added to the amount by us every year. I hope we find a way to gather and reuse the plastic out there, but I think the first step is to reduce the new plastic waste we generate.

The Skyscraper whale — much like the environment — can’t speak for itself. If you could say something to people who don’t quite care about casual littering or excessive plastic use, what would you tell them?

To those who don’t see a problem with excessive plastic use or littering, I would remind them that plastic use is cyclical. That plastic you throw eventually enters into plants and animals food streams, and thus, back into you. So if you don’t want to eat plastic, stop throwing it into world around you.

Skyscraper is on display outside the ArtScience Museum from now till 19 December.

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