Heather Davis by Pieter Kers, beeld.nu
By Hannah Klaubert
A colourful bundle of plastic tubes, held together by a white organic material, float in transparent liquid inside a glass cylinder. This ‘p-plastoceptor’ is part of an artwork by Pinar Yoldas
, a series of speculative organs and organisms for a massive new ecosystem that is developing unnoticed by humans: the plastisphere.
Little more than a century ago synthetic plastic was first composed from raw oil and other materials, but the way it has shaped our daily lives as well as global politics in an omnivorous petro-capitalism, is radical. Airplanes, medical equipment, baby bottles – the stable organic polymere structures are always with us and sometimes closer than we would like to think.
From the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating plastic island the size of central Europe – to the polluted rivers of East Asia, and the landfills of any major city, the plastisphere is composed of a whole range of new ecological systems that challenge ecological thinking. Those affected most by intoxication and pollution can be traced along colonial power lines, and plastic changes the chemical composition of the planet. It contributes to a set of significant ruptures in the geo-system of the earth that are now commonly framed under the term of the ‘Anthropocene’. Ultimately, plastic waste pushes evolutionary change of both human and non-human beings into unforeseen and unpredictable directions.
Heather Davis, researcher and writer based in Montréal takes the artistic work of Pinar Yoldas and other artists like Kelly Jazvac as a starting point for thinking about plastic. Her talk on day three of Sonic Acts Academy followed two lines of argument. One was concerned with the non-human communities of organisms that are developing in the plastic-ecologies in and outside the ocean. Since we are actively participating in their formation, Davis argues, we owe them our ‘responsive attentiveness’: we have an ethical responsibility towards these plastic-devouring bacteria and weird critters that Pinar Yoldas pays tribute to in her work.
Davis’ second line of argument makes clear that the changes in the global ecology not only raise environmental concerns. We are already ‘becoming plastic’ ourselves through absorption of micro-particles and soluble additives of plastic products that are challenging the integrity of the human body. Certain chemical components of plasticizers even influence the reproductive ability of human and non-human animals. Davis argues that there is something beautiful in these transformations, and that they possess a subversive political potential: they make material an idea of futurity that is not based on reproduction and endless progress towards a bright utopian future. Might plastic help us to rethink a future that comes to terms with non-productivity? This future, she notes, is queer. It is not based on reproduction, but on alternative forms of kinship and community. The challenge posed to this mode of thinking is the suffering caused in the destruction and re-organisation of ecological systems. But this queer future is are already here, and since our bodies and environments are transformed, we are already living in a queer plastic future.