April Surgent is an artist drawn to the ends of the earth.
She’s pursued her environmentally themed art in Antarctica and, more recently, on a remote atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Her medium is usually engraving.
“As my art has progressed, I’ve become really interested in the dynamic between art and science and connecting the two fields,” Surgent said. “I’ve become really concerned about the environment.”
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In 2016, she teamed up with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program as artist in residence.
The seals live in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu.
The chain of small islands, including famed Midway, have about 80 acres of land.
But they are vital to a number of species, including sea turtles, nesting seabirds and the seals.
And that’s where Surgent, 35, spent the summer of 2016. It’s forbidden to visit the monument without permits.
While she created art and worked as a field biologist, she was struck by the amount of trash that would wash up on the beaches. Much of it is derelict fishing gear.
“The northwest Hawaiian Islands are the most remote island chain in the world but they are being totally devastated by human impact,” Surgent said.
Along with three other women, she spent over four months living in tents on the atoll. They collected bottles, light bulbs, plastic crates (one with “Trader Joe’s” emblazoned on it) and other trash.
“If you see one of something you’re going to see a thousand of them,” Surgent said.
One of those things is the disposable lighter — those cheap plastic rectangles sold in convenience stores around the world.
“It’s a very common object we all use, whether we smoke or not,” she said.
Along with the other women, Surgent began picking them up. Soon, she had more than 2,200 of them.
“They were so out of context where I found them,” Surgent said.
She brought them back to the mainland and incorporated them in to an art show on display at Traver Gallery in Seattle.
Rather than dumping the lighters in a heap, she turned them into art, presenting them as a rainbow-colored wall.
“The astonishing afterlife of our disposable objects” is how she refers to the piece.
The idea behind the art, she said, was to show the impact that thousands of small acts can make — the simple toss of a lighter into the ocean.
“Every little thing we do makes a difference,” Surgent said. “It took the entire world to make this problem.”
‘Of Sea and Sky’
Who: April Surgent
When: Now through Oct. 28
Where: Traver Gallery, 110 Union St., No. 200, Seattle
Information: 206-587-6501, travergallery.com