Don't throw away your old footballs

by david kane

Hundreds of old, punctured, deflated, and unusable GAA footballs will form the centrepiece of a new art project aimed at raising awareness about the pollution currently affecting aqua and marine culture worldwide.

By collecting the threadbare footballs, acclaimed artist Thomas Brezing is looking to highlight the inherent bond between something all Irish people love, Gaelic football, and something people worldwide dislike, rubbish.

While Brezing will utilise the GAA balls to highlight the disparity, his main message focuses on the amount of plastic that is currently contaminating the oceans.

The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' is an area of debris, plastic, and waste, which floats in the Pacific Ocean.

It covers an area roughly the size of the USA, and kills hundreds of thousands of fish, seabirds, and larger water mammals annually.

"The main aim of my art project is to make people aware of Pacific Garbage Patch, to create a talking point, and get the ball rolling," said Mr Brezing. "It’s not right that we use our seas as a new dumping ground."

"Someone recently said, the sea is dying, and as a consequence, so are we.

"And as Baudelaire wrote in Man And The Sea, 'the sea is your mirror', and the sea in its current state is not a pretty picture."

The most obvious danger to sealife is entanglement, with the iconic image of a turtle trapped in a six-ring plastic beer holder coming to mind, but the real danger is ingestion.

Plastic particles, sometimes smaller than five millimetres, are awash in the ocean's currents, and when sea creatures inhale, or eat, plastic enters their bodies, blocks vital organs, and kills them.

"Ever since the start of my art practice 20 odd years ago, I have engaged with environmental issues, but only specifically so in connection with marine pollution after seeing Chris Jordan’s images of dead, plastic-filled, albatross babies, and that was a sort of light bulb moment," said Mr Brezing.

"Then I read Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck, and a squalid, frightening, desperate, chaotic scene unfolded, and I became fully aware of what a treacherous swamp we are turning our seas into."

As he says, the most recent pandemic has been the spike in albatross chicks dying before leaving the nest, and on examination, it becomes apparent that they have died through being fed plastic by their mothers, or ingesting plastic particles in fish, repeatedly since birth.

After the collection, Mr Brezing will recreate the carcass of a marine mammal that has ingested plastic, demonstrating how plastic has entered the food chain.

The old footballs will be used to construct the exposed rib cage of the enormous beast.

"I imagine I will need about 400 GAA balls for the whole whale skeleton. Volleyballs, rugby balls, and footballs are also welcome," said the artist.

It will stand 18 ft (5.5m ) in length, almost 7 ft (2m ) in height, and be 7 ft (2m ) again at its widest.

"I think it will be quite a challenge to get such a large amount of GAA balls, but if in the unlikely event there are too many, I will just make the whale bigger!"

The whale carcass will then tour Ireland, in a production called 'A Toxic Love Story' which will debut early next year.

'Love' because plastic is everywhere, its uses are endless, and humans have a strong relationship with the material, and 'toxic' because plastic is everywhere, and it is harmful and dangerous.

Brezing is appealing to all local GAA clubs who would like their old GAA balls, or other sports balls, recycled, and used in his art project, to contact [email protected], or call 087 6985329.

He will collect all donations in September, and collection points have been established at Salthill GAA and Oughterard GAA, but other clubs are welcome to collect on their behalf and get in touch.

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