SAN FRANCISCO — On their first date about 30 years ago, Richard Lang and Judith Selby went to Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Lang bent down to pick up a piece of plastic in the sand. So did Selby. They talked and found out that for several years each had been collecting plastic and making it into art.

Now, they are the artist duo One Beach Plastic, and live near the beach, where they keep a collection of the plastic they’ve gathered over the decades in a barn, sorted by color and type.

So, when Cheryl Haines, the founder of the For-Site Foundation, asked them to participate in her latest show, Lands End, which responds to the climate crisis, the two were ready. The show has a dramatic location in San Francisco’s Cliff House, on the edge of the Pacific. Haines decided to use every room in the former restaurant and ballroom, including the kitchen. That’s where One Beach Plastic has arranged some of the white plastic they’ve collected on plates and steam trays, in an installation titled “for here or to go” (2021). 

“For us to have the kitchen was the best thing ever,” Selby said. “We walked in there, and we said, this is us.”

One Beach Plastic, “for here or to go” (2021), ocean plastic, ceramic dishware

The exhibition has photography, painting, film, sculpture, and other media from 26 artists and collectives from countries including Pakistan, Italy, and Turkey. Along with the kitchen, the coat closet, trash room, and prep areas also filled with art. Works include Doug Aitken’s “migration (empire)” (2008), a movie of North American animals in motel rooms that examines the relationship between wilderness and the things people build, and Ana Teresa Fernandez’s “On the Horizon” (2021), an installation of six-foot-tall cylinders filled with sea water, representing coming sea level rise.

Like the team of One Beach Plastic, several of the artists in the exhibition live by the sea. Chester Arnold lives and works on California’s coast in Sonoma, north of San Francisco. His small oil paintings of turbulent seascapes, Scenes From an Age of Heavy Seas, hang in the corridor off the dining room, showing boats and ships nearly overwhelmed by raging waters. Arnold said he loved Haines’s idea to display them in ornate frames — like paintings of tranquil seas in many oceanside restaurants.

Chester Arnold, “The Sinking of the Tennessee, Marin Headlands” (2021), oil on linen

When Andrea Chung, an artist who lives in San Diego, first did her cyanotype, “Sea Change” (2017), she was thinking about invaders, as well as the changing climate. The blue print hanging over the bar shows lionfish, native to the Indian Ocean. Chung says tropical fish hunters have been disposing of the fish in the Caribbean, where they are destroying the ecosystem.

“I thought this could be a metaphor for colonialism,” Chung said. “They don’t have any natural predators, and they’re starting to spread. They’re beautiful fish, but they’re extremely poisonous.”

Andrea Chung, “Sea Change” (2017), cyanotype, watercolor on watercolor paper

All the artists say living by the coast influences their work — both in seeing climate chaos, as well as the positive effects of being near the ocean. Arnold, who years ago lived in a flood zone in Sausalito — on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, where he saw sea levels rising — says he walks by the sea several times a week and finds it exhilarating.

Chung can’t imagine living anywhere landlocked. “There’s something very regenerative about water,” she said. “It’s very healing. It’s like a battery — I just sit in it and recharge.”

It’s a joy to be so near the ocean, shared Selby, where they see wildflowers and peregrine falcons nesting on cliffs above the beach. “I think of us as planetary housekeepers,” she said. “We want to be caretakers of this place we’re so lucky to live in.”

Lands End continues at 1090 Point Lobos Ave (San Francisco) through March 27. Entry is timed and free.

Emily Wilson is a radio and print reporter in San Francisco. She has written stories for dozens of media outlets including NPR, Latino USA, the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, California Teacher,...