SVA Alumnus and Nat Geo Explorer Ziggy Livnat Fights for a Plastic-Free Sea
July 11, 2019 by Emma Drew
Ziggy Livnat, underwater, shooting test of underwater puppet prototypes constructed by partner Heather Nisbett-Loewenstein. Photo credit: Marcos Schonholz (WeSea)
<p "="">An underwater photograph of two divers, one of them operating a puppet of a fish and the other filming the scene.

SVA alumnus and filmmaker Ziggy Livnat and puppeteer Heather Nisbett-Loewenstein film an underwater puppeteering scene. Photo by Marcos Schonholz (WeSea).

Underwater filmmaker Ziggy Livnat (MFA 2002 Photography and Related Media; BFA 1995 Photography) has been fighting for plastic-free oceans for over 20 years.

“Back then, I was like a prophet of doom,” he recently said. ”‘Hey people, let’s wake up!’ Unfortunately, now it’s hitting us in the face. ... The fact is they are already finding microplastics in sea salt, in all five oceans. Recently there was an article that said they started finding microplastics in the rain. Just a couple of weeks ago they tried to find food [sources from the ocean, like crabs, etc.] that didn’t have microplastics in it and they couldn’t find a single one. We’re definitely not going to recycle our way out of this one.”

<p "="">A photograph of a sculpture of a surfer that has been installed at the shoreline of a beach.<span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span>
Sculpture by Evelyn Anka, part of the simultaneous exhibitions “Red Sea Plastic Free: An Exhibition to End Plastic Pollution” in Eilat, Israel, and “Stories From the Sea” in Kansas City, Missouri.

A recently named National Geographic Explorer, Livnat collaborates with government, scientific and educational institutions worldwide and has produced work for municipalities and organizations in the Red Sea, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. His award-winning films are part-documentary, part-PSA; they employ laboriously captured footage of marine life to communicate, for example, the importance of coral reefs, the destruction tourists and negligent divers wreak and the presence of discarded garbage that animals inevitably eat.

Livnat’s current project, Plastic Free Red Sea, models new approaches to using the arts, media and social science to cultivate lasting, positive change for the world’s aquatic ecosystems. In an effort to further humanize endangered aquatic creatures and encourage the empathy necessary to inspire change, Plastic Free Red Sea will use puppets filmed underwater and within marine environments as characters to educate the public and drive interaction—think Jacques Cousteau meets Jim Henson.

“Nobody has ever done underwater puppets before,” he said. “And now we understand why—it’s extremely complicated, technically!”

<p "="">Two photographs: one of a puppet of a fish and another an installation view of an exhibition.
Images from the “Stories From The Sea” exhibit in Kansas City. Photos courtesy of The Box Gallery.

Livnat, originally from Israel but now based in Kansas City, Kansas, is working in collaboration with master puppeteer Heather Nisbett-Loewenstein of StoneLion Puppet Theatre to fabricate and man the various puppets. Partially funded by the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Embassy in Israel, and The Municipal Environmental Unit Eilat - Eilot, Plastic Free Red Sea recently tested prototypes in the Red Sea; the project’s first videos will ideally be available to the public by early next year. To announce and promote the initiative, Livnat and crew have launched a bi-continental gallery exhibition at galleries in Eilat, Israel, and Kansas City. The show in Eilat, “Red Sea Plastic Free: An Exhibition to End Plastic Pollution,” is on view at the city’s municipal gallery through August 10. Kansas City’s exhibition, “Stories from the Sea,” is on view at the Box Gallery through August 30.

“I think it’s our duty today as artists to create work that reflects on the environmental issues that surround us because this is our sustainability, this is our children’s future. We’re dealing here with life and death of the planet,” Livnat said. “My most favorite two things in the world are to be underwater, spending time with the animals, and then sharing my work, with students in school assemblies and communities around the world, and see the spark that it ignites in their eyes.”

<p "="">A photograph of a partially opened sardine can with a clear plastic bag stuffed inside of it.
Sardine can sculpture by Aliza Olmet, part of the simultaneous exhibitions “Red Sea Plastic Free: An Exhibition to End Plastic Pollution” in Eilat, Israel and “Stories From the Sea” in Kansas City, Missouri.