I started reading this for secular reasons, but wound up being very relevant to my recent animist pursuits of understanding plastics, fossil fuels, and art.
Plastiglomerate is a new pseudo-geological substance created from the merging of melted plastics with sand that’s been found on Kamilo beach in Hawai’i. This piece is less an analysis of what Plastiglomerate is, and more a meditation on what these objects mean. I firmly believe that we polytheists think far too little about the implications of the objects and substances in our lives, especially where they don’t have a clear connection to the Gods we already know.
Plastiglomerate clearly demonstrates the permanence of the disposable. It is evidence of death that cannot decay, or that decays so slowly as to have removed itself from a natural lifecycle. It is akin to a remnant, a relic, though one imbued with very little affect. As a charismatic object, it is a useful metaphor, poetic and aesthetic—a way through which science and culture can be brought together to demonstrate human impact on the land.
Nevertheless, plastiglomerate is a seductive substance, attracting artists to both collect and display it, and to make it. What does turning plastiglomerate into an artwork do? To understand it as art is, potentially, to see it as a call to action. But that latter interpretation demands seeing it as art made by the Earth, with humans only as anonymous actors, as midwives lighting the fires on the beach. After all, it is made from the most banal of substances: rock and plastic, both easily available and easily melded into one. Most artists making plastiglomerate are doing so as a commentary on human-made pollution. Although there are plenty of artists using plastic to comment critically on waste, labor, and production, it appears that those specifically drawn to plastiglomerate seem rather to be oddly inspired by it, occasionally even going so far as to erroneously report that volcanic action creates plastiglomerate, and that this in turn is evidence of “nature adapting to technological surplus.” Such statements are categorically incorrect, and hint at how, if the Anthropocene is a narcissistic category, then the art world is the mirror. To make such an object in order to question its making seems a deeply problematic tautology, implicated in an impulse that sees the Anthropocene as a kind of celebratory mechanism for human interaction with the world. It suggests a constant search for new and novel material with which to make a mark, a gesture that is cognizant of capitalism’s love of the new, even as it replicates it.