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When National Geographic explorer Asher Jay began building her “Message in a Bottle” art installation, she started with 100 plastic water bottles.
The bottles, which were used as part of an effort to raise awareness for World Oceans Day in 2012, were gathered from litter and bottle-collection drives. Jay then covered them with colorful paper that she rounded up from old magazines, mailers, and printouts from her and her neighbors’ recycling bins. She also painted them. Each bottle includes a message from a different individual, many of them connected to environmental protection in some way.
Eventually, her art bottle count reached 365—one for each day of the year. The idea was to inspire people to make change within a single revolution around the sun, Jay says. She also created a soundscape of the messages, which plays when visitors walk through the installation.
“People get to see something that’s been cast away after a single use being upcycled into art,” says Jay, whose work often includes elements of conservation advocacy.
Ian Somerhalder, an actor known for his role in “The Vampire Diaries,” contributed one of the messages in the bottles. His words ask people to consider the similarities between themselves and nature.
“The world is literally one biological process,” he wrote in his message. “The trees are our lungs. Look at the Amazon River system next to a human cardiovascular system, look at corals or trees and look at our lungs, you literally cannot tell the difference. They’re the same. So when we destroy our environment, we’re effectively destroying ourselves.”
Harrison Ford, an actor and a board member of Conservation International, says in his message that humans often take more than their fair share of nature’s resources.
“If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive,” Ford wrote. “Simple as that.”
The “Message in a Bottle” project has grown so big that Jay built a bridge out of it. She fashioned a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, which visitors can actually walk across, out of 25,000 plastic water bottles.
“That is the number of bottles we consume in the United States every second,” Jay says.
She used the Brooklyn Bridge because it’s iconic—people often meet each other on the bridge, and it’s a vital conduit between Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is hoping people who walk across the replica will think of their footsteps as a physical manifestation of progress between where the planet stands on conservation issues and where it should be.
Jay’s goal is to eventually add other bridges, like the London Bridge, to the art installation when it moves to other cities, so visitors in each place can walk across something they feel connected to.
The bottle as a medium for art partly appealed to Jay because of its shape, in addition to its conservation message.
“I like the way the bottles curve along an axis,” she says. “Each bottle is like a small sliver of the Earth rotating. Every rotation counts.”