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Every couple of steps of the walk along the shingle beach from Thorpeness towards the Sizewell power station, we have to stop for Fran Crowe to bend down and pluck a piece of washed up plastic and pop it in her pocket. I am not sure whether I am part of her art or just a collaborator. Is there nothing she won’t stoop to? Apparently not. Into the pocket goes a plastic tampon applicator or at least I think that is what she called it.
A couple of hours on the train going east from London’s Liverpool Street, Fran is there to meet me at the level crossing at Saxmunden station. The rain has eased but not for long, and as she drives me to the stretch of beach she has made her own, she talks about the surrounding Suffolk countryside with affection.
Fran is a scavenger, some would say obsessive collector - beachcombers have nothing on her. For several years now, she has been collecting plastic detritus and using it in her art, in part to shock us and in part to educate us. Why do we discard so much plastic? Why do we use so much of a material that doesn’t rot and takes years to deteriorate? Our oceans are filing up with the stuff, and Fran is determined to make us aware of our folly.
She uses a combination of skills to ram the message home - she has a background in merchandising fast moving consumer goods (you might say she once worked for the ‘enemy’ - the very organisations that force us to buy products in plastic packaging), as well as brilliant creative talent interwoven with humour - she sells our plastic waste back to us as souvenirs of present-day coastal Britain.
When I was interviewing her back in August, 2010, she had an exhibition at Orford Ness, once a secret laboratory for military rocket experiments, now National Trust property. To get there we would have had to go by open boat and thankfully the day’s balmy but wet weather has even deterred Fran. So we stick to walking along the shingle beach by Thorpeness. I wondered how intrusive our footsteps on the shingle would be in the recording, but not to worry, as listeners will be spellbound by what Fran has to say.
Date added: 24 April 2011
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