The French Riviera is weathering its fair share of plastic pollution in its waters. According to a WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative study carried out in 2019, the iconic stretch of Mediterranean coastline, renowned for its crystal blue coastline and breathtaking nature, “has become a plastic hell” (WWF) under the rapidly increasing consumption of plastic. The report highlights five key areas of discussion which shed light on what’s going on just beneath the surface: 

1 – France releases 11,200 tonnes of plastic waste in the Mediterranean Sea every year

Each year, 11,200 tonnes of plastic is dumped by France in the Mediterranean. It is estimated that this plastic pollution costs the French economy about 73 million euros per year, affecting the tourism, maritime trade and fisheries sectors.

2 – The plastic crisis is aggravated by tourism and coastal activities

Coastal activities are the cause of 79% of plastics entering the Mediterranean, rivers carry 12% of the waste found in the sea and 9% of the waste comes from maritime activities. 21% of the plastic pollution discharged in the Mediterranean comes back to the coast within one year. 

3 – Plastic pollution threatens cetaceans

Phthalates, a chemical compound used in most common plastic items, are reported to be found in fin whales, sperm whales and pilot whales.

4 – The French coast is a hotspot of plastic pollution

Marseille, Nice and Corsica concentrate hundreds of plastic per square kilometre.

5 – Coastal cities can put in place key solutions to avoid any plastic waste in the sea

Cities are important players as they can do a lot to improve their waste management, reduce production and consumption and educate citizens to more responsible behaviours.

(All above facts and figures have been provided by WWF).  

Charles Thiefaine

The Plastic Art Fair: Could Art Help Solve the Plastic Problems of the French Riviera?

After almost 2 years of restrictions, holidaymakers descended on the coastal towns of the French Riviera for the long-awaited summer months. As tourists lay their towels on the beaches of Saint-Tropez, the Plastic Art Fair was preparing for its debut exhibition, a stone’s throw from the bustling port. From the 24th September to the 2nd October, the Salle Léon Gambetta (Rue Gambetta 69, 83990, Saint-Tropez) showcased works of art crafted from marine waste collected from the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, Marseille creeks and Etang de Berre. Exhibiting the works of three contemporary artists: James Shaw, Charles Thiefaine and Edouard Granero, the Plastic Art Fair asks visitors to scrutinise their own habits of plastic consumption. A curation of thought-provoking photographs, sculptures, objects and a short film exists to inform and inspire beach-goers to think critically about the truths floating beneath the ocean surface.

James Shaw

aware_ sat down with Jan Berger, curator and founder of the Plastic Art Fair, to learn what an impact this unique exhibition could have on the surrounding community. 

aware_: What do you want visitors of the Plastic Art Fair to take away from the exhibition?

JB: Plastic Art Fair is a collective but also an association. We want to bolster public awareness of plastic waste by creating pieces of art. It can be any medium: videos, photos, Installations… we want to highlight the importance of the true relationship humans have with the sea. This great feeling after bathing in the sea is incomparable.

Plastic waste poses a huge threat, our generation has to act now! It’s not a natural thing to find plastic in the sea and on the coast! In fact, the idea of this collective came out during the first lockdown. I went back to my hometown and I used to hike 30 minutes along the coast every day. One day after a huge mistrals (windy weather) I discovered this plastic coast full of micro and macro plastics! I was devastated. I wanted to make people aware that unfortunately, plastic is everywhere, in food, air, water, I could go on… As consumers, it’s our mission to consume less plastic! In addition to this, we made sure to use as little energy during the exhibition as possible, as well as incorporating upcycled materials or renting fabrics when necessary. Embracing a holistic approach to sustainability was important to us when thinking about how we could positively influence our audience in more ways than one. 

aware_: Are exhibitions such as this the future when raising awareness around these pressing environmental issues?

JB: 100% yes!  I’ve been always fascinated by art and experience. I think since the pandemic and all those environmental disasters people need to see beautiful things. The advantage of creating an experience is the fact that you can grab people’s attention. If they come to visit your exhibition it’s because they want to discover and learn new things.

By creating experiences that provoke emotions and feelings it gives the audience a better chance to memorise the purpose of the exhibition. I like the thinking that an exhibition activates the five human senses, in particular: seeing, touching, listening…

We are living in a fast era, making this exhibition allows people to enjoy the moment and whilst spending time to learn more about environmental issues.

Charles Thiefaine

Participating Artists

James Shaw is a London-based designer who, through his practice, questions our existing judgements surrounding waste. His work, permanently exhibited in museums such as the V&A and the MoMA, asks the viewer to see the potential for beauty in waste; regarding it not as a burden but as a precious commodity. Discarded materials incorporated in Shaw’s designs include high-density plastic, timber, reclaimed glass, and recycled polypropylene.

Edouard Granero is a videographer motivated by his curiosity in “the self-destructive power of our civilization” (Plastic Art Fair). His work addresses urgent environmental concerns and through an inspiring approach to film-making has collaborated with the likes of Moncler for their “Born to Protect” sustainability campaign. Granero’s work pushes the boundaries of cinematography to shed light on pressing issues such as plastic waste.

Charles Thiefaine is a freelance photographer and journalist living between Paris and Iraq. His work captures moments of tension amongst the younger generations caused by societal and environmental issues. Producing reports for publications such as The Washington Post, Le Figaro and I-D, Thiefaine amplifies the voices of tomorrow.   

By Eliza Edwards