Interview with Marina DeBris for Muda the Zine

Maryam: Hey, does it show that we're recording now? Perfect. So can you start off by introducing yourself? 


Marina DeBris: My name is a fake name. My nom de plume is Marina debris. I work in rubbish. I make art out of washed up waste to raise awareness about how much rubbish is being created, but also how much is getting into the ocean environment mainly.

Maryam: Can you talk about your favorite piece, like your favorite piece that you've crafted so far? 


Marina DeBris: It's usually the last piece that I've done, which is not always. Usually. And in this case, it is. I just finished a piece. It's called Hydra, which is made of 1600 single used coffee cups. And I did it for a Commission. I did it for a company that has a system of reusable coffee cups. So you go and you get your reusable cup and then they have depositories around. You just drop your cups in and they get cleaned and then the cycle continues. So it's a really good initiative. And yeah, it came out really well. I was really happy with it. It's in a lobby in a building in our city. That would probably be my current favorite piece. I have this other piece called Inconvenience Store, which is an older piece. I did it in 2017, I think, but it's probably my most successful piece as far as really reaching audiences. It communicates really well the message in a very, kind of an amusing fashion. And all ages understand it. I have it installed in a regional town in New South Wales. And yeah, it's being really well received and I'm also going to be putting that up again in local beaches. I like it because it's successful. It's a simple idea, but it works really well. 


Maryam: I love the name for it. Inconvenience Store. Can you tell me how the piece looks and what the goal of it was and also how you came up with the name or in general, how you came up with the names for your pieces? 


Marina DeBris: So it's a take off of a convenience store. In other words, all the items that you would find at a convenience store. But the twist is that I found everything washed up on a beach and I repackaged it. I don't think I have anything here otherwise, if I do, I don't know where it is. And I've repackaged it all in packaging I've found on the streets and in garbage bins. So there's almost no virgin materials in there. And it looks exactly like a convenience store. And that's where the word inconvenience comes in, because it's basically an inconvenience that this stuff exists and that it's just used briefly and then thrown away and stuff in the ocean often. Right now it's inside a shop. So it really does look like a shop. 


Maryam: That's first of all, a creative name, but also a creative approach to really presenting to people the inconvenience of things that we use in ordinary life, which is really fascinating. So can you walk me through how you start off creating either that piece or any piece, what the thought process is and what the actual process is in being able to develop the final product? 


Marina DeBris: I guess mostly as I pick up trash every single day on the local beach, wherever I'm living. I was living in Los Angeles for many years and now I'm back in Australia and virtually every day I pick up off the beach and I kind of construct ideas in my head about what I'm finding most often. In other words, the recent piece I did is called pandemania, which is all single use face masks, actually reusable base masks also because I was finding up to ten a day just on the street and beaches, and it was just really staggering. And it's also about the rise in single use coffee cups and covers. And it's also about the rise here, particularly of people buying breeding dogs because they've been home so much. So it's about the kind of mania of all these things that have been on the rise since the pandemic. So that was purely based on what I was seeing. And I just thought this is a subject that I have to talk about. So convenience stores are kind of the same thing. And I still find convenience items everywhere. So that's universal. I've done a couple of pieces on fishing gear because fishing gear is truly problematic. So I did another piece on takeaway. I've done quite a few on takeaway containers. I've even done some on clothing. I have a piece called Dirty Laundry, a wearable piece, which is because almost every day I find a single sock or really underwear kneers. They're called that here. I find them washed up on the beach. Very problematic to marine life. They get stuck, caught in fabrics and get entangled. And it's a sign about fast fashion and saying how we just wear something once and then it goes away. 


Maryam: Exactly. 


Marina DeBris: In answering your question, it's really about the need I see for a specific issue or material. 


Maryam: That's great. I definitely hear what you're saying about a lot of those issues. And I feel very similarly on those issues, especially when it comes to conversations about fast fashion and the use of fabric. Because the whole goal of what I'm doing is to make sustainable fashion more accessible. I think it should be the norm and it should be the standard rather than fast fashion. And I think being able to convey that message in a unique way like you have is really wonderful. 


Marina DeBris: Thank you. 


Maryam: So how do you go from collecting trash on the beach or on the streets and then thinking to make that into art? Is it something that came to you naturally or like you started putting things together and you saw an art piece? 


Marina DeBris: I actually don't know the answer. I went to RISD, which is in America, Rhode Island, but I studied graphic design, so it was all about delivering a message visually. That's really what graphic design is. And as far as making three dimensional art, I think it's just mostly intuitive and not that it works all the time because a lot of times it doesn't. So I do start thinking things in my head as I'm collecting. And sometimes it's just the name comes way before the actual piece, which I think was the case for pandemania. I started about three or four times and it was not working and it was really frustrating. And then the fourth time I thought, yeah, I think this is finally working. So, yeah, often the name comes first and sometimes not. Sometimes the visual comes first into my head. But like all art, it changes as you go and who knows? Accidents happen sometimes. Really great accidents.


Maryam: That's really interesting, especially that you started off in graphic design, because that's something that I'm really interested in now, and obviously in making a magazine that's the primary focus is graphic design and arranging things and being able to convey a message through that. So it's interesting how you were able to go from that to creating through the art. And I definitely hear what you're saying about coming back to something multiple times. Again, that's been this project for me. I came up with the idea over a year ago but wasn't able to actually realize it up until this year. So I definitely hear what you're saying, starting something coming back later on.


Marina DeBris: But that's great that you're that ambitious. In my generation, a lot of graphics designers are into the arts now. A lot. I don't know too many, because when we started, there were no computers. 


Maryam: Really? 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. I'm that old. It's a whole different ball game, completely different world. And you could work with your hands a bit too, which I love. And that's something I completely missed with computers. 


Maryam: Yeah, I agree. I try to involve graphic design and everything. So I'm always volunteering to make posters for my friends or for sports teams making sweatshirts for them. I find a lot of my inspiration from artists who didn't use Adobe or the software that we have now on computers and rather they would cut out shapes and created their own fonts. I find myself going back to that a lot because it's really unique, the fact that they didn't use a pre-made font, they made it themselves that you can't find just looking up online or seeing what's made digitally. 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. Have you designed fonts? 


Maryam: I have not. I've tried in the past, but I find it very difficult, but it's definitely something I want to do. 


Marina DeBris: I think I did it in art school once and that was the last time? 


Maryam: It's really fascinating. So going back to your work and I'm specifically thinking of your collection where you trash to create different forms of fashion. What sparked your interest in focusing on pollution or environmental injustice in general? Is it something that has always stuck with you? Because I know for me personally, I only recently started becoming very passionate about the environment. And once I realized that, it shaped every aspect of my life from the things I'm doing in school and what I'm studying in college versus the personal decisions I'm making of what I'll have for dinner or the type of clothing I'll buy. So when did that start for you? When did you start to really involve it in everything you do? 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. I feel like I've always been dabbling and interested. And I found a poem that I wrote when I was really young, which was about pollution, but I really didn't really delve into it. And the ocean pollution aspect started when I moved from I was living in Bondi here, Bondi Beach, which is a beautiful beach. And I moved to Venice Beach, California, and instantly noticed that there was stuff washing up. And that was a very stark moment. I just really didn't understand how that had happened while I was gone. And then I also started seeing the work of Chris Jordan, who, if you don't know him, you can look him up. He's a photographer. And first he did a series called Counting the Numbers, which showed mass consumption basically in a visual form. And it was fascinating. And those went very viral. That was a long time ago. And then he did another series on albatross who were roosting in Midway Atoll, which is in the middle of nowhere. And he's also done a documentary called Albatross. And it shows how these birds are ingesting loads of plastic microplastics and feeding it to their young, and they are dying in serious numbers as a lot of marine animals are. So pretty much as soon as I found out about marine animals being harmed, that was when kind of a light switch went on, but it was pretty specific light. I didn't really see all fish as equal. Anyway, that took me another while. So now I'm actually much more involved in animal activism, animal rights activism. And that's kind of taken more of a prominent part of my life. I've been vegan for I don't know, at least seven years, but probably close to it for ten years. And then that just seems to me to be a more important subject in many ways. One, it's incredibly destructive to the environment. It's causing pandemics and it's excruciatingly horrible to animals. So that's kind of taken over a lot of my activism. And the two are combined somewhat because a lot of what I do in the ocean pollution world is because of the marine life that's dying and being harmed. And it's also the whole overfishing industry. The ocean is the lungs of the Earth, as they say, as our trees. And we are destroying both by virtue of our animal agriculture system. So it's all intertwined. And I pretty much live, eat, and sleep that. And that's very difficult because I see so much waste and I see so much sort of ignorance about what we're doing to ourselves. And it's frustrating because once, you know, you know, there's sort of no turning back. So I'm doing my best in both arenas. I do a lot of outreach in the animal activism world. I do outreach. I do graphic design actually, as well for them. And I do sort of not direct action, but working on a series of little short films with some other people. And it's really fun or just having quite a blast. I just do whatever I can. Really. 


Maryam: Yeah, that's great to hear. And I think something that you said that really stuck with me is once, you know, you know, you can't really unknow. Ffor me, the big part is making other people know, because part of it is definitely ignorance and people choosing not to listen to the information they're provided. But I think in somewhere like New York City, where you can be very out of touch with nature, by just going about your life, I think that part is getting people to know, which is why your work is like an inspiration to me, because as someone who's working to get people to know and to understand the way that I do, that is through fashion and making really interesting and fun pieces and redefining sustainable fashion as not like plain, earthy tones all the time, but something that you can have fun with. Actually, this top is from my fashion brand. So I design everything for my brand and my mom makes it. It brings me joy when I wear my things, but it also starts a conversation when someone compliments me, because now I can talk to them about the story behind it and make sure that they know what my goals are. I think that's a big part for me is making sure that people know because once you know, you can't unknow. 


Marina DeBris: I lived in New York for quite a few years, too. And my brother's family is still there. They've been there forever. And he's got my niece and nephew. My niece is 20 something, and she's actually a model. So I was thinking, I don't know, she's got an agent. 


Maryam: Yeah, that's great. I feel like with all the places that you mentioned, it seems like you've lived in a lot of different places. You're obviously a very passionate environmentalist. But is there a reason why you gravitate towards cities? 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. Culture is super important to me as well, which is why I moved to Sydney in the first place, because I thought wow. I can live near beautiful beaches and have somewhat of a culture. It's nothing like New York or Los Angeles, but it is definitely getting much better. And it's very multicultural. I love the multiculturalism of cities. I don't really fit into somewhere that's kind of monoculture. And that's what I love, I think, the most about New York was how diverse it was and just so much going on there. And I love New York. It's probably my heart home in many ways. But like you said, nature not so much. 


Maryam: Yeah. No, I definitely agree with that. I was born and raised in New York City my whole life, and I'm in my final year of high school, so that means going to College in the fall. And I shared that same sentiment of I love this city. It has my heart. I think we'll always come back to New York City because it's my home and there isn't quite a place like it. But I'm always longing for being around nature and being able to wake up and see the sunrise, hear birds. That's something that I'm always looking for. I'm really excited to have that change, even if it's just for a few years. Yeah. 


Marina DeBris: Where do you think you'll go? 


Maryam: I'm heading to Cornell in the fall, which is also in New York, but a very different part of New York.


Marina DeBris: Yeah. My brother went to Cornell. That's great. Actually, my best friend went there as well.


Maryam: It's gorgeous. I think that's the one thing that sets it apart from any other school is the campus, like being able to see all those sites. And in the winter, the snow. It's a really unique place. Yeah. 


Marina DeBris: Oh, good. Congratulations. It's an excellent school. 

Maryam: Thank you so much. Yeah, I'm very much looking forward to it and getting a shift from New York City. Well, those were all the questions that I have regarding your work, but looking more generally and broadly, what do you hope for in the future or what are you looking forward to? And that can be from the standpoint of looking at your own work and what you hope for yourself, but also in terms of a more societal and global perspective. 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. Well, certainly a world without waste and rubbish and a vegan world would be absolute Nirvana. I don't have huge hopes for it, but that's what I'd be working towards. And certainly it's both. Well, veganism is definitely growing. Whether the trash waste issue is because of cobalt, it really puts a kibosh on the headway that we're making on single use items. And that's quite scary. I don't know, because we were a bit rural, especially even here, and it's gone completely backwards. And I've heard the same in La. And New York is, as much as I love New York, it's so horrendous on the single use. 


Maryam: I definitely agree. Yeah. 


Marina DeBris: I couldn't believe it. The last few times I've been back, you'd go into a restaurant and they'll give you a single use cup. And I'm like, no, please. I bring my own. Everything everywhere. Sometimes they won't even let you use it. So that's another thing, it's just gone ridiculous, I think. And. Yeah. So I guess I'd love to not have to do what I'm doing in an ideal world because I can't ignore it. I mean, that's the problem. Like, I've just moved my studio, right. And this is everything in boxes at the moment. This is all my rubbish, my materials. And I just literally sat on the floor and looked at it all and thought, I can't believe I'm moving rubbish around. It is not fun. And I was this close to calling a skip and saying, I'm just going to chuck it all away. Yeah, I can't do it. I'm like, none of it's mine. I mean, some of it could be mine. I pick up another issue here is that a lot of people put out perfectly good furniture and electronics you got. It never used to be like that because it gets snapped up in a second here. It doesn't really. That's the problem. Yeah. Everyone wants something new. And the next thing no, my entire kitchen is from electronics I found on the street. And they all work perfectly. Entire kitchen. I've got a lot of beautiful furniture and three Lessy Phillipstark ghost chairs. And they're worth like one $400 new. So sort of happy, but sort of not. I find it, but 90% of the time it's going to end up in the landfill. Yeah, I guess that would be my dream. How about you? 


Maryam: I mean, I share a lot of similar hopes for the future. I think for me, I agree with what you're describing, people want the latest thing. They want what's new. I think we see a lot of that in New York City. I mean, New York City is all I know because it's where I'm from. But what I see a lot of the time is you'll go to the Upper East Side or any really wealthy neighborhood in the city and you'll see a lot of really great things, like in great condition and also really expensive things thrown out on the street. And then you have people from other neighborhoods coming from other parts of the city or not as wealthy people coming and being able to make use of those materials and those goods. And I think for me, that goes into my hope because especially the people in power, the people with the money to make change and to really take action. I hope they're the ones who can be in the know and understand what their actions are doing. Because when I think of my family, for example, similar situation with us, most of our things have come from the New York City sidewalks. And it's not something that really anyone in New York City says with shame, or at least in my people. It's something like, can you believe I found this on the street, that kind of thing. I think when we're talking about the different economic disparities in somewhere like New York City and who's really contributing to the environmental success of our city and of our world, it often comes from the people with the least amount of money or the least ability to make change. For me, my hope is that the people who have the ability to make change understand that and make use of it, too. Yeah. 


Marina DeBris: Now, you did mention environmental justice, and I don't think I talked about it much, but obviously that's a really important subject, that all the factories and pollutants are built in marginalized communities. Because otherwise people with money have money to fight it. And those are the anyways, horrible issues. Yeah. So, I mean, I can't say I've experienced that, but that's another thing that makes me even more upset is that I live in fairly not wealthy areas, but certainly middle class. And the fact that we have no respect for things, that makes me even angrier, that I don't know why, but there are people that are living with nothing and here we are with this ridiculous overabundance and just treat it like it's expendable. 


Maryam: Exactly. It's really sad. Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. The lack of appreciation for something that's in wonderful condition and that people paid so much for. 


Marina DeBris: Yeah, too easy. All right. And so you'll send me a link or is it a printed magazine? 


Maryam: Yeah, it'll be a printed magazine with a digital download, so I'm hoping to print it out within the next two weeks or so and then have a physical in hand. So I'll definitely send you both the digital version and the physical copy. 


Marina DeBris: Yeah. Actually, I'll give you my brother. He's just in New York City, so I'll give you his address, he’s saving up everything for me.


Maryam: I really appreciate having the chance to talk with you, and I'm so excited to be able to share my work with you and also to be able to share our conversation with you. I can't wait for you to see this dream that I've had for over a year now, fully realized, and I'm really excited.


Marina DeBris: Great. Thank you so much. 


Maryam: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. 


Marina DeBris: You too. Bye.