photo courtesy Alexis Oltmer
Arts & Culture Events Featured Visual Arts

FRI JAN 17 – Cepa Gallery Opening “For Future Generations: A plastic pollution study of Lake Erie” work by Alexis Oltmer

Artist Alexis Oltmer (b.1990) has spent 3 years creating For Future Generations : A plastic pollution study of Lake Eire, an environmental and conceptual body of artwork which elevates plastic pollution imagery, data & samples collected over 40 individual beach cleanups.

For Future Generations began in December 2016 after Oltmer visited Emerald Beach located at 329 Erie Street, Buffalo NY to photograph and enjoy the waterside. If you’ve never been, Emerald beach is a beautiful spot & sits at the mouth of the Buffalo Niagara river unfortunately, the location lends itself to be a prime spot for plastic pollution and trash debris to wash ashore.

As an artist and citizen scientist, Oltmer cleaned and documented the beach to create a body of work while also supplying the data collected to the Alliance for the Great lakes. Each day she cleaned the beach from the rocky area to the sand (about .4 miles) documenting and collecting the plastic pollution she encountered. Her creative mandates at each clean up included the following:

  • Leave all organic matter on the beach
  • Photograph the plastic pollution centered in frame – dead pan
  • Collect a bag of the oddest most eye catching pieces of plastic pollution
  • Photograph a side profile of the beach and a final trash collected shot.


photo courtesy Alexis Oltmer

Turning plastic pollution into art : Photographic Grids & Fossils

photo courtesy Alexis Oltmer

Oltmer organized and reviewed all images from each clean up day, and recorded every piece of plastic pollution into a master document. She then retouched & curated each day into final selects of 40 images, to create 24 final photographic grids. Each grid was created to showcase multiple images as one topographic view of the beach, as well as an open invitation to become more intimate with each clean up day, and try to find the plastic pollution as Oltmer had done.

She cleaned, organized, photographed, and created fossilized plastic pollution sculptures from the bags of found plastic pollution. The fossils have a clear cut side & a natural side to imitate actual cut Fossils. Each rock mold was created from fossils & rocks Oltmer has collected throughout her lifetime. The pedestals that the fossils rest upon are drift wood taken from Emerald beach. *Due to creative decisions & financial restrictions all fossils were created from Art Resin, a poly based sculpture resin.

photo courtesy Alexis Oltmer


Each photographic grid and fossilized plastic pollution were chosen specifically to represent the most compelling, nostalgic, normal or shocking plastic pollution objects found at each beach clean up. If one looks at the dates that the plastic was found, stories & questions come into focus regarding where the plastic came from & how long has it been in Lake Erie.

Photographically she was inspired by the works of Hila and Bernd Becher, German photographers who worked in photographic grids to preserve the architecture of industrial buildings using photographic typology. Sculpturally she looked to artist Robert Rauschenberg who created work which elevated everyday objects as art through the medium of assemblage.

For Future Generations was created in collaboration with the Erie Basin Marina, The Alliance for the Great Lakes, NOAAH, Local government & the research of multiple scientific studies to best understand the threat plastic pollution poses to the safety of our environment and community. It has become clear that the local government & citizens of Buffalo have a tremendous opportunity to impact and reduce the amount of plastic pollution entering Lake Erie then finding its way to the Atlantic Ocean. If we can come together to make individual lifestyle changes which reduce the amount of single use plastics we use daily, we can create a positive lasting impact & inspiration For Future Generations regarding the health of our environment & communities both locally and internationally.

Outstanding questions from For Future Generations include:

  • If any, what chemicals are leeching into our public water due to the known issue of plastics found in Lake Erie & the Great Lakes.
  • What is the affect micro-plastics have when ingested by our marine life, how does this effect the food chain? Could micro-plastics affect the safety and tourism of our fishing industry?
  • Could our local community & environment benefit from a town hall & publicly published yearly government lead study of plastic pollution in Lake Erie & its affects on public/environmental health.
  • Could this help to inspire individual lifestyle changes reducing plastic pollution in our community?
  • If individuals reduce the amount of plastics they purchase, could citizens then inspire corporate change due to purchasing power?
  • Is there an opportunity to clean The Great Lakes similar to The Ocean Cleanup founded by Bryan Slat.

Advocacy and the preservation of fresh water is a staple of Oltmer’s art practice. Being born and raised in Endicott NY, Oltmer has been influenced & shaped by growing up with the duality of living in a space which was overrun with wild aspects of nature yet opposed by the fast pace and over looked aspects of our consumer society, and riddled with environmental crisis. Endicott, remains an active class 2 superfund site due to wide spread ground water contamination which lead to a chemical plume caused by IBM in

1979, more recently after remediation and clean up efforts toxic gasses are now prevalent in the area. In late 2011 due to climate change, Endicott once again made national news due to a massive flood which left her childhood home destroyed. That home was situated next to a highway that sat on protected wetlands. One influential childhood chore which had an influence on her current body of work was to pick up litter weekly from the side of the road thrown by cars and passersby. Oltmer has her family & public school education to thank for the inspiration & education regarding the importance of environmental projection, respect, justice, and advocacy.

In 2019, Oltmer partnered with the Alliance of the Great Lakes to provide all of her plastic pollution data. She founded #PlasticfreeBuffalo a community based extension of the art project where she coordinated 8 beach clean ups with local institutions, schools, businesses, influencers & community members. Each clean up was lead with an introduction to Emerald Beach and how it is affected by micro plastics, trash, and plastic pollution which has been deposited via water, air, and daily traffic. Clean ups were concluded with a group discussion as to how we can positively impact our community by demanding corporate sustainability & encouraging individuals to take steps to reduce their plastic consumption and be empowered to have conversations on the topic with their loved ones.

Oltmer has exhibited across Buffalo & plans to travel For Future Generations to cities which reside on The Great Lakes. WEB

The CEPA Gallery, Buffalo NY
Opening Reception – January 15th 6-9pm 2020 Closing date – February 17th 2020


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