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The combination of plastic and campfires has formed a wholly new sedimentary rock recently dubbed “plastiglomerate” by the geologist-artist collaborative field study team of Patricia L. Corcoran, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario; Charles J. Moore, Algalita Marine Research Institute, Long Beach, California; Kelly Jazvac, Dept. of Visual Arts, University of Western Ontario.
The new stone type, identified and collected from Kamilo Beach by the team on the southern tip of the Island of Hawaii, is made up of intermingled melted plastic from beach campfires, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris.
In their published report, “An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record,” the team explained that when plastic melts in campfires, natural sediments attach to the plastic. This makes the plastiglomerate heavy, and keeps it in place despite movements of wind and water. This increases the chance that the new rocks will be buried and preserved in the geologic record. And that means there is great potential that plastiglomerates will be part of the geologic record of the earth and act as a “horizon marker” of human pollution, “signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.”
smudge/FOP decided to create a scientific illustration of this newly formed, discovered and named geologic material. Kelly Jazvac loaned us one of the plastiglomerate specimens she gathered from Kamilo Beach. This beach has become known as Hawaii’s “plastic beach” because it borders the Pacific Ocean current called the North Pacific gyre, which is now infamous for being the site of an enormous floating island of plastic trash from around the world. “A 2014 study estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic trash enter the sea from land every year—the equivalent of five plastic bags filled with trash for every foot of coastline around the world.”
Plastic from the “pacific garbage patch” washes up on Kamilo Beach because of how the currents there push up onto this area of the island. There, the plastic is so prolific in the sand, it’s almost impossible to have a beach campfire without melting plastic and rock/debris together to form plastiglomerates. The research team found their specimens as they explored campfire pits.
We were curious about what new realizations, understandings, and aesthetic experiences of new material realities of life in the Anthropocene we might offer audiences by using scientific illustration to document and interpret plastiglomerates. Given our habitual ways of narrating ecological crises and disasters, to understand the significance of plastiglomerates to human and nonhuman lives and habitats often means being horrified, appalled, angered, frightened.
We wanted to experiment in offering a scientific illustration of the specimen that calls up something other than “objective observation” of “just the facts” of this new material — AND that also avoids emotions and conventions of “disaster porn” images related to climate change.
Might it be possible to create a scientific illustration that invites a viewer to “be with” this new, vibrant, consequential “thing” of the Anthropocene? To pause for a moment and take in its reality without denial or distraction? To be moved by the illustration in a way that leads audiences to keep the force of this new human-made thing in mind as they go about acting, making choices, and living in the Anthropocene?
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