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Karen Beattie

Visual Artist

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Karen Beattie is a visual artist practising in Ullapool, north-west Scotland. She graduated from Alberta College of Art + Design in Western Canada in 2013. She is interested in what it feels like to live now, amidst the excesses of 21st Century consumption and commodification, information and misinformation. 


'The Cruel Sea'  Altered book, acrylic, ink, dental floss, beads, plastic bag, image transfer


The Cruel Sea, in both its original state and its present (much altered) state, is about conflict. The original text is a violent adventure yarn about men at sea in WW2 and their struggles against the ocean. The alteration is concerned with the assault on the ocean by the consequences of man-made processes. 

It’s pretty well known now that almost all of the plastic that man has ever been made still exists. Breaking down progressively into ever smaller pieces, much of it makes its way to sea where it remains in slowly rotating bodies of water. This work addresses this inexorable accumulation in the form of an altered book. The intervention of plastic materials has rendered the book unnatural and useless. It is irreversibly altered. The book was delicate, and resisted alteration. It tore, stuck, and warped. Additions and interventions stressed its fabric and structure. 


The cover of the book is now the gold of preciousness and extravagance. The front is adorned with a circular woven globe, constructed from plastic and a page from the book, suggesting the meshing of unnatural additives with the natural base state, the physical cyclicity of the gyre, and also an open eye. The slick of black plastic on the back represents an eye closed. Within the book, pages are bound together by plastic dental floss. Entangled strings of this floss support beads which represent the entangled molecules and natural matter. A procession of dots meanders over the pages, embedded and obscured by washes, getting progressively smaller and yet more voluminous: the ever increasing flow of plastic into the world and the decreasing size of the remains. Photo-transfers of molecular structures and text act as reminders of the continuing process. The pages are covered in several layers of white acrylic but, through these, words emerge unobscured from the original text, repurposed. The sense of the original book has disappeared and a new meaning emerges. 

The final page shows the North Pacific gyre. The page is distressed, rough. It is not a finality as the continual growth of the plastic mass flows on through it.

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