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In ‘Plastic Animals’ marine life fuses with plastic waste to survive the age of plastic

Visual artist Amith Venkataramaiah's series of AI images speculate on the evolution of marine life, existing in tandem with the exponential appearance of plastic waste in oceans.

by Sukanya DebPublished on : Jan 23, 2023

It is widely known that plastic waste is a major contributor in the depletion of marine life. Plastic waste in the ocean ranges from larger plastics that pollute nearly all marine environments, to microplastics (particles that are below 5 mm in diameter) that are ingested by sea creatures and birds, shortening their life expectancies and harming their digestive systems, also embedding into the seafloor. The result is a range of physical hazards for marine life, and the ecotoxicological effects of plastic being a component in the complex food web. A science journal reports that plastic from the land to the ocean is predicted to reach 250 million metric tonnes by the year 2025. The Centre for Biological Diversity further reports that plastic in the ocean is likely to outweigh all fish, by 2050. Responding to this overwhelming ecological crisis of global scale, visual artist and designer Amith Venkataramaiah has created an AI-generated series of visual art titled Plastic Animals, speculating on marine life that exists in tandem with the exponential appearance of plastic waste in the ocean.

A view through the series Plastic Animals, 2022, AI-generated images Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah
Lobster, 2022, AI-generated image| Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
Lobster, 2022, AI-generated image Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

Oceanic waste, of course, is a man-made problem that is a direct result of industrial pollutants, lack of sustainable waste management systems, and bad policy. In the larger environmental discourse, significant blame is passed down to the consumer, who is expected time and again to reject single-use plastic, recycle (for God’s sake), and snip the six-pack rings known to suffocate sea turtles. What then remains unaddressed in mainstream conversation is the role of the industry responsible for releasing pollutants at a large scale with ineffectual waste management systems in place, that consumers have no control over. As of 2018, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, truly a sardonic insight into the absurd helplessness around environmental disaster, is claimed to occupy 1.6 million square kilometres, consisting of 45-129 thousand metric tonnes of plastic. Venkataramiah tells STIR, “We are surrounded by plastic, although developed to save the planet, plastic quickly turned into a nightmare for the ecosystem because of the pollution caused by disposable plastic waste."

Portrait of the visual artist Amith Venkataramaiah| Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
Visual artist Amith Venkataramaiah Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

A 2017 article, from the Science Advances journal looked at the ability of Larvaceans, jellyfish-like components of global zooplankton assemblages, to filter, ingest, and package a range of microplastics into their fecal pellets. The article even observed the function of vertical movements, that can sink microplastics through the weight of these pellets. For Venkataramaiah, this finding provided a trigger into a fictional world where marine life fuses itself with plastic waste, in order to survive the 'age of plastic'. The artist tells STIR, “This discovery gave me a positive insight that animals might figure out a way to deal with the abundant plastic waste and maybe even consider it as a resource."

Octopus, 2022, AI-generated image| Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
Octopus, 2022, AI-generated image Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

Through Venkataramaiah’s AI-generated digital artworks, this speculative world deploys colourful plastics as a sort of defence barrier worn by aquatic creatures, including—a whale, a starfish, jellyfish, seahorse, octopus, and turtle. In the vein of science fiction, the generated image series is humorous and ingenious. An octopus incorporates a part of a plastic bottle, and other creatures make use of meshes of plastic and beer cans, some of the most common pollutants in the ocean.

Speaking with STIR, the multidisciplinary artist shares, “I have always been interested in using plastic as a medium to raise awareness about the subject of plastic pollution and its effects on marine life. I am also a fan of juxtaposing elements together to make a meaningful concept. This project was a great opportunity to explore mashing 'plastic' and 'animals' together in a seamless way, using Midjourney as the tool to generate these fictional beings.”

Seahorse, 2022, AI-generated image | Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
Seahorse, 2022, AI-generated image Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

With the use of hybridisation between animals and plastic, Venkataramaiah produces a commentary with visualisation that supplements growing discourses around the intelligence of various life forms and the idea of 'more-than-human'. Situated in context of ecological precedence and human interventional capacities, the Plastic Animals series deploys artificial intelligence to comment on the intelligence of other species and their capacity for invention and initiation of defence, relaying a sense of agency that is presumed uncharacteristic of non-human species.

According to The Guardian, some of the organisms most affected by plastic pollution are seabirds, toothed whales, crabs, and even marine bacteria. While large-scale changes on the basis of sustainable environmental practices, with the ability to counter real threats of ecological collapse seem like a fairy-tale, at this point, Venkataramaiah’s work imagines creatures’ capability in adapting to the unnatural turn of events.

Jellyfish, 2022, AI-generated image | Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
Jellyfish, 2022, AI-generated image Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

Speaking on the nature of his multidisciplinary practice, the artist says, “Having had the wonderful opportunity to work on various design, film, photography, sound, and illustration projects in the past, where each one of these practices require me to think like a designer and an artist at various stages of the work, I feel that this symbiotic relationship between design and art is important for me to make meaningful work.”

AI-generated image of Starfish, 2022 | Plastic Animals | Amith Venkataramaiah | STIRworld
AI-generated image of Starfish, 2022 Image: Courtesy of Amith Venkataramaiah

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