Toxicity’s Reach


Through three newly commissioned online artworks by artists, Mary Maggic, Luiza Prado de. O Martins and Sissel Marie Tonn, and an accompanying body of research, Toxicity’s Reach traces how contaminants of emerging concern exert agency over our lives in unexpected and lesser-known ways. The online exhibition asks how exposure to chemical water pollutants affects us biologically, socially and ideologically? How might reimagining molecular water-pollution through a focus on the agency of chemicals make us think differently about our daily actions and give us hope to flourish in toxic worlds.

From microplastics to fertilizers, pharmaceuticals to personal care products, contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) are lively and leaky pollutants that contaminate waterways, eroding environmental and public health. Although invisible to the naked eye, micro-polluting chemicals are everywhere. They are found in the bodies of humans and animals and take long periods of time to move through seas and soils before breaking down into less harmful forms. However, it is not only the physical impacts of water pollutants that harm our bodies and environments, chemical molecules also shape our bodies and worlds in social and ideological ways. Many of us are born onto toxic lands built on unjust legacies or pursue belief systems—from ideas about purity to immunology—that continue social inequalities and put in place new polluting futures. In multiple ways, we are entangled with the very environments we seek to live with, from and in. 

The River Mersey in Liverpool, England, is a prime example with a complex history of industrial pollution. In the 1970s, if someone had fallen into the river, locals would say that they would die of poisoning before they would drown. Today, despite highly effective clean up attempts tackling obvious ‘point sources’ of pollution, such as effluent and sewage, this renowned waterway has more microplastic in it than in the pacific garbage patch.

Mary Maggic – Estroworld Now: The Quarantine Edition

Luiza Prado de. O Martins – The Sea Collapsed into the Pleasures of Sand

Sissel Marie Tonn – Plastic Hypersea (the spill)

Toxicity’s Reach is commissioned and produced by Abandon Normal Devices, curated by Dani Admiss. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England and Creative Industries Fund Netherlands. Plastic Hypersea (the spill), 2021 was made possible with the support of: BAD Awards; Creative Industries Fund Netherlands; Department of Environment and Health; VU Amsterdam and Department Molecular Cell Biology & Immunology, Amsterdam UMC – location VUmc.

Image credit: Ahmet Odabas/