Canadian Geographic commissioned five artists to create works out of plastic waste. Third in a five part series.

The results? Eye-catching and compelling commentary on the material’s impact on our planet.

Third in a five part series.

It was a powerful statement. For much of 2019, as visitors left Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto, they were confronted with a silver canoe emerging from a tidal wave of plastic water bottles. What to make of this iconic Canadian symbol of water and wilderness engulfed in the seemingly ubiquitous empty bottles, a work titled Over Our Heads?

Questioning our dependence on plastic and the waste it’s creating is a principal motive behind the 10,000 Changes program from Canadian Geographic, together with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Recycling Council of Ontario. As part of the initiative, Canadian Geographic wanted to inspire reflection on plastic similar to that prompted by the Ripley’s exhibit. So, we commissioned five Canadian artists to create works from plastic waste and share the rationale behind their art to provoke further thought on the issue.

Included among them is the very artist of the Ripley’s piece, Rebecca Jane Houston, along with Pete Clarkson, Katharine Harvey, Kerry Hodgson and Hilde Lambrechts. Some, like Houston, are already known for plastic waste art, while others mixed plastic into their existing mediums. All present pieces that will inspire us to rethink plastic. Here’s the third.


by Katharine Harvey
Photo credit: Peter Power

I have always been captivated by the reflectiveness and translucency of water — how it is both inviting and unknowable. Light has a similar kind of mystery to it, being both invisible and visible. There is magic in these natural elements, where one senses the universe in an associative rather than a literal way. 

The same duality appears in more than 20 installations I have made since 2001; giant wall curtains and chandeliers made of discarded plastic containers, which I have collected and reused over the years. Corporate clients such as Brookfield Properties and Cadillac Fairview have commissioned me to create these large-scale works for their building lobbies. The installations offer a way to educate tenants about recycling. Similarly, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California installed a piece I created to show visitors how plastic pollution destroys marine life. 

My assemblages are alluring from a distance, designed to simulate the pulsating energy of falling water or the luminous qualities of crystal. At the same time, the transparent detritus reads close-up as an environmental message on consumer excess. It is a strange disconnect, to be enticed by a beautiful object only to acknowledge it is environmentally harmful. This piece, part of a larger series, speaks to the growing awareness about climate change. It also offers insight into the human psyche and our complicated relationship with the natural world. 


Katharine Harvey ( has exhibited her paintings and installations across Canada, as well as in New York, Lose Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Hamburg, Germany. Represented in Toronto by Nicholas Metivier Gallery, corporate clients such as BMO, the Canada Council Art Bank, Scotiabank and Manulife have collected her work.