University of New England artist creates treasure from ocean trash

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • -1

PORTLAND — With its new artist-in-residency program, the University of New England hopes to integrate the arts into various departments on the Portland and Biddeford campuses.

The first-ever artist in residence at the college is Kim Bernard, who is focusing on the intersection between art and science in her year-long appointment.

Her first major project entailed using trash picked up along area beaches to create a sculpture, called “Clean Ocean Waves.” Bernard said she wanted to raise awareness about ocean pollution.

For the spring semester, Bernard will build an 8-by-16-foot amphibious house that can float. The home will “have tentacles reaching out to so many different disciplines,” Bernard said this week.

The goal is to make the home environmentally sustainable and completely off the grid, utilizing solar energy, rain capture systems for water and a composting toilet.

In addition, the lower portion of the house will include a portal to allow users to observe ocean life and the marine environment. Bernard said once the house is done the college could use it as an Airbnb or for visiting faculty.

The “Clean Ocean Waves” sculpture was recently installed at the marine science center on the University of New England’s Biddeford campus, where it will be on permanent display.

The sculpture incorporates everything from parts of lobster traps and plastic bottles to golf balls and shoes – even a dog toy.

“I already use a lot of recycled materials in my art,” Bernard said. So it seemed like a natural fit when she heard that one of the marine science classes at the college was going to participate in the International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy this past fall.

“I was trying to draw attention to the fact that there’s so much trash in the ocean, that then washes up on our beaches,” she said. “We are using the ocean as a dumping site and I wanted my sculpture to be both attractive and repulsive.”

Bernard said, “I wanted people to be attracted by the colors and shape, and then only realize it was made from trash on closer inspection.” She used students and staff at the University of New England, as well as members of the community, to collect the trash used in the artwork.

Her sculpture incorporates the following: 88 plastic bottles, 71 cans, 18 pieces from lobster traps, eight shoes, seven glass bottles, four golf balls, four shotgun shells, three hats, one horseshoe, one plastic tarp, one pink kiddie pool, one scarf, one CD case, one portable scale, one iron pipe, one gift card, the dog toy and “lots of plastic bags, food wrappers, fish line and nets,” Bernard said.

The next step was to sort, clean and shred all of the material into weaveable strips that were woven around a base of stainless steel wire.

Bernard said her favorite part of the project was the weaving process, which involved not just herself, but several work study students, as well as family, friends and passersby, who all got a chance to contribute to the piece.

“It took us three days and three nights to complete,” she said. “and the best thing was getting people involved and making decisions” about where various elements should go. “It was great how it all came together.”

Bernard, who has a master’s in fine arts and teaches at Maine College of Art, has also been an artist in residence with the physics department at Harvard University.

Her specific charge at the University of New England “is to develop science-inspired works of art and to assist faculty and students who wish to integrate arts into their curriculum and studies,” the college said in a press release.

Bernard acknowledged, “At first glance, art and science seem like a strange pairing,” but the differences “make these two realms seem in complete opposition, yet art and science are both investigations into the nature of reality.”

She added, “Both have the ability to alter the way we see the world. Both begin with asking a question, a deep curiosity, wonder and a willingness to go into unchartered territory.”

Originally, Bernard’s residency was only set for the fall semester, but her work at the University of New England has been extended through a grant from the Ellis-Beauregard Foundation, which is based in Rockland.

“I am thrilled to have Kim join us at UNE,” said Jeanne Hey, dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Students will be working directly with a world-class artist (and) creating enduring works that will grace our campus and influence students’ lives.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

“Clean Ocean Waves,” installed at the marine science center on the Biddeford campus of the University of New England, is made from trash collected on area beaches.

Kim Bernard, the University of New England’s first-ever artist in residence, with “Clean Ocean Waves,” a piece she created with the help of students and the wider university community.

Bins of trash that helped form “Clean Ocean Waves.”