MDI Biological Laboratory

From Debris to Art

  • January 12, 2021

Original artwork completed by eco-artist Mariah Reading during MDI Biological Laboratory’s From Debris to Art project, is now on display at the Maine Center for Biomedical Innovation.  While the campus remains closed to the public for COVID-19 safety precautions, the exhibition can  be viewed in a virtual gallery on our project website.  As soon as circumstances allow, we look forward to welcoming you to enjoy the project in person.  You can see Reading’s work in more detail online.

What a Flop and Painted Islands are paired with the artists’ own words and photographs documenting the creative process. Giving found objects a second life through art, Reading seeks to examine her own participation in the waste cycle and its impact on the natural world.  She explains,

I have been contemplating my relationship with art and the vast amount of waste creating can produce. Classically trained as a landscape painter, I pivoted to eco art when the parallel between painting landscapes and feeding landfills became overwhelmingly apparent. The landscapes that so richly inspired me were being hurt by the waste I created in order to depict them. To rectify this unwanted connection, I have developed a zero-waste practice that involves creating canvases from debris found during my travels through National Parks and protected landscape environments. The physical pieces of trash are painted only on one side and intentionally left untouched on the reverse so the original piece of debris remains evident. Once completed, I photograph the painted object aligned with the physical landscape to both obscure and highlight the discarded object. In the wake of the longest ever government shutdown [in  2019], it is now more critical than ever to leave no trace. When our public lands are not vigilantly protected, the detrimental effects cannot be ignored. These wild spaces can easily be taken for granted, as even the most remote of such are becoming paved and overrun with idling personal vehicles. My practice revolves around  ways I can lessen my footprint upon Earth and leave it better than I found it.

The 2020 Art Meets Science program, From Debris to Art partnered eco-artist Mariah Reading with MDI Biological Laboratory’s Community Lab manager Anna Farrell. To see more about Anna’s work at  the Community Lab, watch her in action in the lab and on site on MDI.

Using Anecdata, a unique citizen science software program developed at MDIBL, artists from around the globe continue to engage directly with scientists and community members to gather human-made debris from our beaches and use debris to create works of art. Completed art is displayed on Anecdata’s online gallery “From Debris to Art.”

Exploring the intersection of art and science, this project encourages participants of all ages to find their creative voice while raising awareness of the impact of plastics and other debris on the health of our coastal environment. Through the process of collecting, documenting and recycling trash found along the coast, participants will be asked to identify the trash source, define concrete steps that can be implemented to reduce waste and raise awareness within their communities.

It is not too late to join in our project!* Citizen scientists of all ages are welcome to collect debris at any location and create their own artwork. For further inspiration, check out project submissions from the South Carolina School for the Blind and Nature Links here in Maine.

This project was made possible through the generous support of the Onion Foundation.

*In an effort to ensure the project is accessible to all, free art supplies will be available for pickup at a number of locations throughout Hancock and Penobscot Counties.  For more information, please contact Emily Burke.