By Max Liboiron
The Surfrider Foundation’s mission “is the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.”
As it turns out, that means most of their work has to do with discards, waste and pollution. Litter, oil spills, wasting water, plastic trash, and chemical runoff are some of their primary concerns.
As groovy activists, they’ve developed a rich visual vocabulary that uses juxtaposition, animism, and other visual code switching to bring out the more absurd aspects of ocean waste and discards as “matter out of place.”
“Absurdity” derives from the Latin absurdusm meaning “out of tune.” The absurd is irrational, without reason, and is often contrasted with seriousness. The Surfrider Foundation uses absurdity in all seriousness, however, to make a sophisticated point about the bad reasoning that goes into ocean wastes. This includes bad reasoning in infrastructure, as when sewage systems dump directly into waterways, bad reasoning by litterers, and bad reasoning by industry and designers when they make disposables out of a permanent substance like plastic. If dirt, as Mary Douglas insists, is about “harassing one another into good citizenship,” then the tactics employed by the Surfrider Foundation can be described as a moral absurdity, where they “show” that individual, cultural and industrial practices can lead to an violently incongruous order that knocks the ocean “out of tune.”
This has implications for what the Foundation sees as ordered and unordered, natural and unnatural, just and unjust, but I’ll let you see for yourself:
Max Liboiron is a postdoctoral researcher with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing and the Superstorm Research Lab.