CONFERENCE: Tracing the Debris (Abstract)

Sarah Green

University of Helsinki

We are told that the sea is filling up with things we should not see - plastic things particularly, and the debris of old, often ruined, lives that linger, but should not. Out of sight, out of mind perhaps, but these things are not so very invisible, at least not anymore. Apart from the cameras that film everywhere these days (in water, air, space, everywhere), the discarded things leave traces that wash up on the shore, that provide gatherings of debris floating in the surface tension of the water, where it meets the air; and they leave traces that turn up as measurements in the gadgets that technical folk use to quantify what people are doing to the world. What is growing in the sea is a story of leftovers - of consumption, trade and conflict mostly - that refuse to disappear. These leftovers provide traces of connections and disconnections between places, people and events; the messy underbelly of operations and exchanges that both worked and went awry. This is a short conceptual story about those traces, an account inspired by ethnographic wanderings across the Aegean Sea between Lesvos and Ayvalik, which attempts to retrace a few of those relations and separations.