Themes and ideas

Did you know that around eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year?1 Globally, we are producing more plastic than ever and 50% of it is designed to be disposable.2 More and more of it is being dumped, pumped, spilled and leaked into our waterways, eventually ending up in our oceans. Scientists forecast that if we don’t curb our consumption of single use plastic and try to clean up our marine environments, there will be more plastic waste than sea life in the Earth’s oceans by 2050.3

But scientists aren’t the only ones drawing attention to the increasing problem of ocean pollution. Artists and designers are using their imaginations and creativity to raise awareness about the alarming state of our precious oceans. NGV Triennial artists Porky Hefer, Pirjo Haikola and artist collective Tromarama are doing just that. While unique in practice and style, their work of has something in common; they all focus on the fragility of our marine ecosystems and the delicate balance among sea life that is increasingly threatened by human activity and our changing climate.

Porky Hefer

Porky Hefer’s Plastocene – Marine Mutants from a Disposable World, 2020, is a series of large-scale handcrafted creatures that inhabit an imaginary sea environment in a future dominated by plastic. Each of Hefer’s giant creatures refers to particular kinds of waste that pollute the oceans. Buttpus is a sprawling octopus with skin that reminds us of cigarette butts. Flat white, a fish like creature with a gaping mouth, looks like a disposable coffee cup. While they may be inviting, charming and quirky, Hefer’s creations challenge us to consider how comfortable we’d feel living in a space built entirely of garbage.

Dr Pirjo Haikola

Dr Pirjo Haikola is a designer, researcher and scuba diving instructor who examines the way design can contribute to the regeneration of marine eco systems. Her Triennial project involves 3D-printed sea corals made from a material comprised of the shells and spikes of sea urchins. Around the world, exploding populations of ravenous sea urchins are destroying the nutrient-rich kelp forests that are crucial to the survival of many marine species and the vitality of the planet. By developing a new use for sea urchins, Haikola aims to reduce this threat to marine life. Her new sea urchin material presented in Triennial is currently being tested for coral reef restoration purposes.


Artist collective Tromarama have worked with real time climate data to create a computer-generated simulation of a unique marine environment off the coast of Indonesia’s Kalimantan Island. Their installation, Solaris 2020, displays digital renditions of blooms of jellyfish that have populated the environment for thousands of years. Living in a landlocked, predator-free body of warm water has allowed these jellyfish to evolve differently to other species. As a result, scientific communities are researching the environment to study the potential effects of climate change.

Workshop instructions

Taking inspiration from Triennial artists, this Digital Creatives project looks at a simple game called Sea life made in a block coding program called Scratch in which an octopus character catches rubbish to clean the oceans. The project examines the code instructions behind the game and shows how code can be used to increase the level of difficulty.

Access the Sea life game

Part 1: Look inside

Part 2: Level up


  1. Plastic Oceans International, ‘The Facts’, 2020, Plastic Oceans, <>, accessed 24 Nov. 2020
  2. ibid.
  3. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & catalysing action, 13 Dec 2017, Ellen McCarthur Foundation, The Ellen McCarthur Foundation, <>, accessed 24 Nov. 2020.