Italian art installation a call for help over plastic waste

ROME (Reuters) - Five million brightly colored plastic bottle tops have been laid out on a Mediterranean island, spelling the word “HELP” in an art installation that aims to draw attention to marine pollution.

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The work, symbolizing the “Age of Plastic”, was created by Italian artist Maria Cristina Finucci and opened on Sunday on the tiny island of Mozia, just off the coast of Sicily.

The project is part of a broader initiative that Finucci has been working on since 2013, entitled the “Garbage Patch State”, which highlights concern over the accumulation of plastic waste in oceans and seas that threatens marine life and biodiversity.

Carried by winds and currents, plastic particles have amalgamated with other debris to form gigantic, swirling patches, or gyres, in the world’s oceans.

The United Nations has estimated that they might cover as much as 16 million square kilometers (6.2 square miles) of sea.

“When I first read about this phenomenon I felt a strong compulsion to do something about it. I wanted to raise some sort of an image and outcry that would capture the sheer scale of this environmental disaster,” said Finucci.

Her exhibits have been shown in Paris, Rome, Venice and the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, but the Mozia installation is her most ambitious installation to date.

The millions of bottle tops, weighing two tonnes and strung out in red netting, are clustered together in huge mesh cases, some of them four meters (13 ft) high, that form giant letters on the sun soaked landscape and are lit up at night.

They lie adjacent to ruins dating back to the civilizations of ancient Rome and Carthage, following a similar contour to the piles of weather-worn stone. The word ‘HELP’ is only visible from the air.

Just as archaeologists today sift through the remains of lost empires, so Finucci imagined people in the future trying to make sense of our era.

“Each and everyone of us has participated in the shaping of this garbage patch, which is made up of bottles that were only used once... flip flops left on a beach, plastic cups and plates that were thrown away,” said Finucci. “It has taken us just 60 years to create this reality.”

The Mozia installation will remain open until Jan. 8, 2017.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Jason Neely