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Pooling Awareness for Big Data and Pollution

Pooling Awareness for Big Data and Pollution

Each year, up to 12 large-scale, outdoor works of are designed and installed by current SIUE students through the Sculpture on Campus program. Supported by several University departments, 

A one-acre plot located on the west side of the SIUE campus, the “Wave Pool” environmental artwork visually connects the Engineering Building and the Art and Design West Building through a rolling, oceanic display.

Created by Brad Eilering, a Master of Fine Arts candidate at SIUE, the artwork is constructed upon a grid-like, grassy landscape and features repurposed railroad ties at various heights. Each tie is topped with a blue cap, made of repurposed plastic bags, to encase information on harmful environmental stressors.

These ties are fitted into particularly-mowed grass contours to represent the relationship between man-made inputs and nature. Through these visual aesthetics, Eilering seeks to capture observers and inform them of the issues surrounding plastic pollution in our oceans.

“Discarded plastics contain toxic chemicals and are finding their way into the oceans via storm sewer connections to rivers,” Eilering said. “These chemicals accumulate in the food chain and impact many aquatic life forms, including several fish species that are consumed by humans. The solution lies in managing our waste, cleaning the oceans and finding alternative packaging materials.”

While aquatic plastic pollution is largely documented, the quantity of plastic entering the oceans due to land generated pollution remains unknown. Using globally collected data on solid waste, population density and economic status, researchers from the American Association for the Advancement of Science have estimated that 275 million metric tons of land-generated plastic pollution was produced by 192 coastal countries in 2010, with between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons entering the oceans. Without improvements to the infrastructure of global waste management, the quantities of aquatic plastic pollution are predicted to increase significantly by 2025.

Eilering found inspiration for his sculpture by fusing his interests in art, science and Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup project. The Cleanup project proposes to use ocean currents to allow plastic waste to concentrate itself, reducing the theoretical cleanup time from millennia to mere years.

While Eilering’s collected data is physically displayed in the sculpture, it is further represented symbolically through the number of ties in the piece and the heights of each. Each of the sculpture’s nine “full height” ties refer to one metric ton of plastic pollution currently entering our oceans while the heights of the other ties represent data for other pollution quantities.

The sculpture’s location is also significant, as the background of the Art and Design West Building is intended to represent a man-made influence which further beautifies the landscape.

The goal of Eilering’s research is to create awareness of how art-based thinking is relevant to science-based environmental issues–and he has worked tirelessly to do just that. Eilering and his sculpture have become highly regarded in the field. In addition to being chosen as part of the SIUE Sculpture on Campus, his research was rigorously reviewed before he was invited to present his project last year at the Data Science Workshop at the University of Washington, an event sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Eilering also presented his Wave Pool sculpture this past summer at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry at the University of Illinois.

“Creating awareness on a topic I’m passionate about through my love for creativity has been a magnificent experience,” Eilering said.

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