Jacob Liao, Contributing Photographer

Over 50 people gathered to clean up the Long Wharf waterfront on Saturday, collecting trash that will soon turn to treasure in an environmentally-focused art project.

The event was organized by the New Haven Climate Movement, Save the Sound and University of New Haven’s Citizen Opportunities for Accessing Science Training on the Sound (COASTS) project. New York-based artist sTo Len plans to use trash gathered at the event for an exhibition on environmental decay in New Haven waterways called “To Dissolve into the Hydrocommons, One Drop at a Time.” The exhibition will be featured at the University of New Haven’s Seton Gallery.

“Art is a cool way to subvert systems that want to keep things censored,” sTo Len said at the cleanup. 

Jacob Liao, Contributing Photographer

At a presentation before the beach cleanup, sTo Len provided insight into his engagement with coastal environments in the greater New York City area, Virginia and Vietnam — all areas where he has lived or holds familial connections — and expressed hope that his art would catalyze awareness and action.

In his past work, sTo Len has developed a number of signature printmaking techniques that engage with the natural environment and build upon traditional Japanese art forms, many of which he discussed in his presentation. 

sTo Len terms one of his printmaking techniques “tsunaminagashi,” an adaptation of the paper marbling art know as “suminagashi.” sTo Len said that he rows around marine environments and places paper into the water, using printmaking to reveal its natural and polluted components and  creating an “archive of water.” 

Another one of these methods is what he calls “gomitaku,” meaning “trash impression.” “Gomitaku” is sTo Len’s adaptation of a Japanese technique called “gyotaku,” in which direct or indirect ink prints are taken of fish. sTo Len replaces fish with detritus from waterways to create a visual language that “engages in our detachment with water, waste and its interconnectivity to a multitude of injustices,” according to his website. 

Jacob Liao, Contributing Photographer

Jean-Paul Simjouw and Karin Jakubowski, both scientists at the University of New Haven, also gave presentations at the start of the event. Simjouw discussed water quality and local marine ecosystems, while Jakubowski presented a recent study on behavioral change associated with cigarette butt littering. The presentations were moderated by University of New Haven professor Amy Carlile.

“One thing we tried to emphasize with our students is that it’s not all doom and gloom,” Carlile said. “There’s resiliency in our coastal environment.”

Carlile called the collaboration with the New Haven Climate Movement and Save the Sound “serendipitous,” explaining that the University of New Haven’s plans for a coastal clean up coincided with the plans of the other two organizations. 

She said that organizers from the University of New Haven contacted Save the Sound to host a clean up event, so that scientists could present their research on coastal environments. After discovering that Save the Sound and the New Haven Climate Movement were already planning a joint cleanup event for International Coastal Cleanup Month, and that sTo Len was creating an environmentally-focused exhibition for the university’s Seton Gallery, the organizers decided to collaborate.

Jacob Liao, Contributing Photographer

Young In Kim, a senior at Wilbur Cross High School and a member of the New Haven Climate Movement, told the News that the event had become a “big collaborative project.”

“Today there’s a pretty good mix of attendees … high school students, university students from the University of New Haven and community members who signed up through Save the Sound,” Kim said. 

sTo Len’s exhibition will be on display at Seton Gallery from Oct. 17 to Dec. 9. 

Pia Baldwin Edwards reports on Connecticut State Policy and how it impacts New Haven. Pia is originally from Evanston, Illinois, but as of a few years ago, now calls New Orleans home. She is a first year in Saybrook College majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics.