SPARK #8: Plastic Oceans

4 February 2023 / 10:00-13:00

SPARK #8 is an eighth in person meeting for Greater Manchester/North West-based artists who want to intervene in the trajectory towards climate breakdown, and is an opportunity to meet other artists and to share information and ideas.

Saturday 4th February 2023
Gallery Oldham, Oldham Cultural Quarter, Greaves Street, Oldham OL1 1AL
10:00-11:00 Exhibition visit to Our Plastic Ocean – meet in the exhibition at 10
11:00-13:00 : Tea and discussion – meet in Our Plastic Ocean gallery at 11

Please register to attend on Eventbrite:

Hosted by artist Nerissa Cargill Thompson, SPARK #8 will focus on our relationship with plastic. The session will start with an (optional) visit to Mandy Barker’s exhibition Our Plastic Ocean at Gallery Oldham and be followed by a non judgemental Plastic in my Practice session which will look at plastic in all aspects of our practice: where we can reduce or reuse, possible substitutions and where it is actually the only thing for the job. Nerissa will share work including last year’s Green Loop commission for Fylde Council to highlight plastic pollution on the Fylde coast, and would like to encourage people to share any work on the theme of plastic pollution or made using recycled plastic by themselves or favourite pieces by other artists.

Mandy Barker collects debris from shorelines across the world and transforms them into powerful and captivating images. Our Plastic Ocean, which premiered at Impressions Gallery in Bradford, is the first major touring retrospective of her work and runs to Saturday 11 March.

Currently, eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year and if this trend continues, by 2050 our oceans could contain more plastic than fish. From accompanying scientists on an expedition from Hawaii to Japan, tracing the debris of the 2011 Tsunami, to a voyage on board Greenpeace’s Beluga II to the Inner Hebrides, Mandy Barker has followed the trail of plastic pollution across the globe.

At first glance, Barker’s images are reminiscent of sea creatures and corals suspended in a dark void beneath the sea, but closer inspection reveals a more disturbing reality. From footballs to fishing nets, cotton-buds to coffee-cup lids, Barker highlights the incongruous plastic items now ubiquitous in our seas. The images resulting from her expeditions have become some of the most recognisable visual commentary on marine plastic pollution.

Our Plastic Ocean spans a decade of Barker’s work including the series Soup, meticulously detailed composite images of discarded plastic objects; Albatross revealing 276 pieces of plastic found inside the stomach of a 90-day old albatross chick; and Beyond Drifting, which sees Barker trace the footsteps of 19th Century botanist John Vaughan Thompson who collected plankton specimens, the ocean’s most basic life-form.

Please note – the exhibition visit is entirely optional and you are very welcome to just join us at 11. However we’ve been finding that the pre-tea walks are a really fertile time to exchange info and ideas.

Nerissa Cargill Thompson originally trained in Theatre Design and developed an interest in fibre art through her community arts practice, leading to an MA in Textile Practice. Through three-dimensional textiles and photography, Nerissa investigates how things change appearance over time, not just eroding or decaying but new layers of growth, giving juxtapositions of structure and colour. She uses old clothes and scrap materials for both economic and ecological sustainability. Recent sculptural work highlights the issue of plastic pollution. It invites us to consider the packaging that we use and discard on a daily basis; objects that are so lightweight and seem so insignificant that we barely notice them. The incorporation of detailed embroidery touches upon the way our waste becomes subsumed into the natural world around us.

Nerissa has exhibited widely and in 2022 won the Comme Ca AWOL Open with her piece No Man’s Land: Mapping the Issue, and second prize in the Sustainability First Art Prize. She continues to facilitate projects and workshops exploring various topics but with sustainable methods and materials.

SPARK #8 follows on from Castlefield Gallery’s SUSTAIN programme focussed on low carbon artmaking and from our first seven SPARK sessions at Manchester Art Gallery, Rogue, The Birley (Preston) and Eccles Friends Meeting House. The SPARK sessions are intended to help seed a new Greater Manchester/North West-based network of artists with low carbon practices.

Directions and Accessibility Info

Gallery Oldham Visitor Information
From Oldham Central Metrolink station head towards Sainsbury’s car park and almost immediately you’ll see our building.

Gallery Oldham Accessibility Info


Image credit: image of a plastic microbead from a facewash, taken via scanning electron microscope. To see if your facewash contains plastic microbeads, check the ingredients list for Polyethylene or Polypropylene. Alternatively download the Beat the Microbead app. (Andrew Watts, University of Exeter, used under a Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0 license)
More image info here

SPARK #8 is supported by Castlefield Gallery and Gallery Oldham.