Mandy Barker Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals

Ophelia medustica. Specimen collected from Glouthaune shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Pram wheel), 2016.

Plamacina retroversta ic. III. Specimen collected from Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland (White plastic horse, 3), 2016.

Aureplia auristice. Specimen collected from Blackrock shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Shoe sole), 2016.

Copeopod langisticus. Specimen collected from Roche’s Point, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Six pack plastic yoke), 2016.

Heplandista ica. Specimen collected from Carrigaloe estuary, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Electric plug and wire), 2016.

Nebulae plaurosbrathic. Specimen collected from Carrigaloe estuary, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Plastic flower partially burnt - group), 2016.

Phoronilasteri crae. Specimen collected from Whitepoint, Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Tricycle wheel), 2016.

Plamacina retroversta ic. I. Specimen collected from Cobh shoreline, Cove of Cork, Ireland (White plastic horse), 2016.

Plividas chloticus. Specimen collected from Fota Island, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Barbie doll arm), 2016.

Rhizopolenia robustica. Specimen collected from Fota Island, Cove of Cork, Ireland (Book with plastic cover – Ireland a Terrible Beauty), 2016.

Artist's Statement

Spheres formed by nature are all around us, from the moon and the planets, to the hidden world in a droplet of water, but often these microcosms are not what they seem. Water is the essential ingredient for any life-supporting world, covering seventy per cent of the earth’s surface this vast ocean space falls short of perfection.

Plankton form a diverse group of microscopic marine organisms living in the water column, not able to swim against the current; they exist in a drifting, floating, state. In this series unique ‘specimens’ of this animal species relate to the pioneering discoveries made by the marine biologist John Vaughn Thompson in Cobh, Cork harbor in the 1800’s.

Presented as microscopic samples, objects of marine plastic debris, recovered from the same location, mimic Thompson’s early scientific discoveries of plankton. The work represents the degradation and contamination of plastic particles in the natural environment, by creating the perception of past scientific discoveries, when organisms were free from plastic. Enveloping black space evokes the deep oceans beneath. Presenting new ‘specimens’ made from recovered debris, serves as a metaphor to the ubiquity of plastic as a result of man-made intervention, encapsulating in a miniature universe the much larger problem of an imperfect world.

Movements of the recovered plastic objects, recorded in camera over several seconds, represent the movement of individual plankton in the water column, which also parallels with planets that have an apparent motion of their own. Captured on expired film with faulty cameras, highlights the ‘imperfection’ in both technique and of subject matter. Nomenclature is the description given to devising new scientific names, of which each specimen has been given, imitating early latin origins each name contains the word ‘plastic’ hidden within its title.

Current scientific research has found that plankton ingest micro plastic particles, mistaking them for food, and at the base of the food chain they are themselves a crucial source of food for many larger creatures. The potential impact on marine life and ultimately man itself is currently of vital concern. In terms of plankton, and of action, we are ‘Beyond Drifting’, and must bring into focus these ‘Imperfectly Known Animals’.

About the author


1964, United Kingdom



Based in

Leeds, United Kingdom

Mandy Barker studied MA Photography at De Montfort University, England. She has received international recognition for her work involving marine plastic debris with her ongoing series, SOUP, having been published in over 25 countries including, TIME, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian, for Greenpeace and on CNN. The motivation for her work is to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans while highlighting its harmful affect on marine life and ultimately ourselves.

Barker’s work has featured in group exhibitions worldwide including The Photographer’s Gallery, London, The Aperture Foundation, New York, and The Science and Technology Park, Hong Kong. Her work was part of the exhibition, GYRE, at The Anchorage Museum, Alaska, that went on to tour across the United States. Her work has also been exhibited as part of the Syngenta Photography Award Exhibition 2015, FotoFest 2016 Biennale – Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet, Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) and Noorderlicht 2016 Photofestival ARENA, Museum Belvedere, The Netherlands. She will be exhibiting at UNSEEN Amsterdam where she has been nominated for the Meijburg Art Commission 2016. Barker has received many awards including as a winner of the LensCulture Earth Award 2015 and winner of the International Photography Award (IPA) 2014 in the Environmental Professional category.

In 2012 she was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental bursary enabling her to join scientists in a research expedition to photograph the accumulation of marine plastic debris in the tsunami debris field in the Pacific Ocean. The trip which sailed from Japan to Hawaii allowed her to create the series SHOAL, which was selected for Critical Mass Top 50 2014.

Barker engages the issue through photography, invited as a guest speaker to the Plastic Free Seas youth conference 2013, Hong Kong, and more recently as part of the Marfa Dialogues discussions at The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas. She has contributed to many book publications and articles, including CNN International, concerning arts relationship with the environment. She was interviewed for Connect the World on CNN News US, for her series PENALTY during the time of the FIFA World Cup 2014, and her work was featured for Earth Day 2012 on TIME’s LightBox, and also on National Geographic’s Proof for Earth Day 2016.