HELP, a light for the oceans

HELP, a light for the oceans

Art serving the planet. The message of sustainability that Italian artist Maria Cristina Finucci first communicated years ago through her work arrives in Rome with “HELP the Ocean.”

The installation consists of a collection of metal cages containing six million coloured plastic bottle tops. Seen from above they spell out the word “HELP,” simulating an archaeological find that one day could be a symbol of our times.  

The work made its debut on 8 June during World Oceans Day. This year the theme was pollution caused by plastics, and was celebrated with a special event on the Capitoline Hill, in the presence of the mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi, the CEO of Enel Francesco Starace and figures from the worlds of culture, entertainment, sport and diplomacy.

It placed a special emphasis on the pollution of the oceans by plastic, one of the most serious environmental problems of our times. We at Enel are also aware of this emergency, and we are contributing to measures that are being taken in all fields, including art.


The Garbage Patch State

On 11 April 2013, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Maria Cristina Finucci founded a virtual country, the Garbage Patch State, which is made exclusively of plastic. The aim of this symbolic, provocative act is to raise public awareness of the disturbing extent of the problem.

The numbers are shocking – the state is composed of five huge islands of plastic in oceans across the world, with a total surface area just less than that of Russia, the world’s largest country. The island in the north Pacific alone is bigger than the Australian continent.

In 2013 the Garbage Patch State had its own pavilion at the Venice Biennial, and in 2014 it featured at the UN headquarters in New York. In 2015 it opened its own embassy in Rome, at the MAXXI Museum. On each of these occasions – as on many others – the state was represented by a work created by its founder.

And now the Garbage Patch State is to appear in the Forum in Rome, one of the world’s most frequently-visited archaeological sites. This setting provides maximum visibility for the symbolic alarm signal warning about plastic pollution.

An “amazing” light project

The shape and size of the cages means they are similar to the foundation blocks of the Roman ruins that surround them, but the cages also provide a stunning contrast: millions of plastic bottle tops give the installation a noisy, colourful presence that clashes with the austere stone of the Roman Forum. At night, when the colours cannot be seen, it’s time for Enel X to play its part. Inside every cage we have installed two LED units. When the sun has set they light up with a fiery red colour which many visitors have compared to that of lava in a volcanic eruption.

For the best possible results we carefully assessed all the technical factors: the power of the units, filters, size and direction of the light beams and the weight and size of the supporting framework. The result is what Finucci, with visible satisfaction, called “An amazing light project.” Her opinion was echoed by Paola Pardini, Manager of the Garbage Patch State programme, who said that “The effect of the lighting system is truly extraordinary.”

This new project is based on our experience in artistic lighting, but it also features two important innovations. There is a significant aesthetic difference when compared to the systems we have used, for example, to illuminate the ruins of Pompeii. There we emphasised the art with a harmonious light, while now the intention was to highlight the dissonance between the installation and the scenic context, using an expressionistic (as opposed to a soft) lighting effect.

The other great innovation lies in the work’s ethical value. Our aim isn’t simply to please the eye of the onlooker: we also want to inspire awareness of the fact that we are all part of a planet facing an existential crisis.


“HELP is a cry of alarm that is not limited to important environmental issues, but places the individual and the life of the planet at the centre, showing that the environment is indissolubly linked to natural resources, health, food, poverty, inequality, human rights and peace”

– Maria Cristina Finucci, artist and founder of Garbage Patch State

The technology created for HELP is one of our best artistic lighting projects, in its breathtaking visual impact and its success in linking art to the issue of sustainability.