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“Plastic Reef” uses art as trash to help us reconsider our plastic addiction
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“Plastic Reef” uses art as trash to help us reconsider our plastic addiction

Exhibit at the Delaware Contemporary calls for visitors to “sea” change; among collection that asks “What Nourishes You?”

At first glance, the whimsical sea life in the Plastic Reef, created by Miami-based artist Federico Uribe, looks like colorful sculptures. Once inside the immersive exhibit at the Delaware Contemporary, visitors come face-to-face with milk jug fish, colorful coral of spoons and wires, seagrass out of straws and plastic bags, and sculptures made from any plastic garage that Uribe could find.

“I make objects out of objects, and I create beautiful objects that make people see that things can be seen in a different way,” explained Uribe.

Using Art to Call for a Nourished Planet and Sea Change

Plastic Reef - Oceans
Photo Credit: Danielle Vennard Photographer LLC

“Once you start collecting plastic from your own hands, you realize the amount of packaging and plastic that we receive on a daily basis. By turning this waste into the most beautiful thing I could do, I thought I could create some awareness so people realize the amount of plastic they use.”

A Boatload of Trash, From Shore to Shore

The original exhibit premiered at the 2019 Venice Biennale and spanned 2,000 square feet. Its prefabricated panels have traveled the world since then, raising awareness on plastic pollution and calling for changes across the country like Philly’s zero-waste commitment, plastic bag bans, and pledge to be plastic-free.

Only nine percent of plastic is recycled, according to a study by National Geographic. This litter starts on a local level – from microplastics found in samples taken from the Delaware River to the two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic that enters the oceans every minute. And, in one year, plastic waste made up 56 percent of the 44 tons of trash removed by the Philadelphia Water Department from a 32-mile stretch of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.

A Collection of Artists, Not Art

Just a stone’s throw from the popular Riverfront Wilmington, the Delaware Contemporary houses seven galleries, 26 artist studios, a gallery shop, an auditorium, and a classroom. The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as “one of the most innovative and prominent organizations of its kind on the East Coast.”

Each season regional, national, and international artists are invited to interpret a central theme created by the community. Through May 28, the entire museum’s theme is nourishment, and substances necessary to life and growth. As individuals and communities, we are nourished by our friends, neighbors, and peers, healthy food and exercise, the natural and built environments, and our family and caregivers.

“So many museums are beholden to these permanent works or artifacts that they care for, but we have the ability to be a lot more flexible,” explained Chase Dougherty, Curator of Contemporary Art. “We really see our local artists as part of our collection that we have the ability to care for.” After each season, artwork is available for purchase, as an additional way the museum promotes and supports artists within 250 miles of the museum and across the nation.

If you go

The free museum is open from noon to 5 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays. Before making the 30-minute drive home to Philly, nourish your senses with neighboring green “galleries” like the DuPont Environmental Education Center, Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, or Jack A. Markell Trail.

Photos: Danielle Vennard Photographer LLC


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Inspired by her college internship with an ocean advocacy non-profit, Leslie started her career planning stream cleanups and writing about watershed issues. Leslie is an accomplished writer and social media expert. When she isn’t chasing a toddler, you can find her writing, planning events, cooking, reading, hiking, and helping brands tell their stories. View all posts by Leslie Hudson
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