The blue merpeople first sighted in Cornwall during the G7 summit will return again to our shores, this time for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November.
Their discarded fishing tackle capes and waste plastic headdresses speak of the ocean’s mysterious depths. They are the creations of Sophie Miller, an Ocean Rebellion artist.
With a background in fine art, Sophie graduated and worked in the film sector for about a decade before becoming disillusioned about the impact the industry was having on the world. She worked as a teacher then started her own vintage lighting company, salvaging old lights and restoring them.
After a few years, she realised this too was part of the problem, with consumerism fueling the climate crisis. So she dropped everything to dedicate her time to creative activism.
“The merpeople remind people of magic, they remind people that the ocean is precious and that as we turn away and ignore the destruction of marine ecosystems we’re killing their magic. For now, it’s still alive so we must do all we can to protect it,” Sophie says.
The piece of performance art enacted by the merpeople involves many hours of careful preparation. Costumes are made from waste fabric, old yoga mats and litter found washed up on beaches and in the sea.
To source materials, she collaborates with Clean Ocean Sailing, a non-profit organisation led by volunteers who clean up the UK’s southern coastline in a refurbished sailing boat.
“There’s tonnes and tonnes of rubbish to use,” Sophie explains. “I live on a boat in Cornwall, so I often fish bits out of the estuary, find things when I’m beach cleaning or I pick through the huge bags at Clean Ocean I go and find the bits that look most interesting to bring back to my workshop to work with.”
The piles of waste include toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, fishing nets, lighters, plastic tampon applicators and more. “It’s kind of gross,” she adds, “but once you get over that, you realise that what is most disturbing is when you get something branded from the 80s or the 70s because it’s been there for so long without decomposing at all.”
However sad, the salvaged plastic helps her create stunning works of art. “I get inspired by the materials that I find. One of my favourites that I made is constructed from a green shewee that looks a bit like a heart, with old gun cartridges and lighters around it like a sunburst.”
She feels that each mer-crown she creates has its own identity, telling stories of the people who once used them. “The toothbrushes, old pairs of glasses, cable ties and each bit of material has its own history,” she says.
“Anyone who works in creative activism knows that there’s a kind of joy in the creativity, and gratitude for being able to use our skills to change things. In my work I know that each thing I put in a mer-crown isn’t being fed to a chick by its mother, or swallowed by a turtle so that feels very positive.”