A response to the plastic-infused stone described by geologist Dr. Patricia Corcoran, oceanographer Charles J. Moore, and artist Kelly Jazvac.
Each one would fit nicely in your hands. They’d feel good. Some would skip better than others. Some would be too big to skip at all. They’re rocks, but they have plastic in them. Abnormally threaded through, embedded, now a part of them, brought into the fold, like a wound that healed over foreign matter. A sliver that never came out. A sliver as old as the body it intrudes on. Something totally and utterly foreign, something so apart, yet so a part of the earthly matter it disfigures. An excrescence. Volcanic, speckled, porous, sharp, chunky, coral, sandy, precious complexions littered (literally) with lesions of vacant white, tumours of last breath yellow, and ulcers of Disney aquamarine. Unknown, fascinating cancers that fray and knot and tangle and twist about inside the rocks. They are not surface deep. They are structural, compositional. They are of the rock – intrinsic to it. They are the rock. They are plastiglomerate. They are a telltale sign that the Anthropocene has begun. An undeniable, unrecyclable, non-compostable sign that we change the world.
Our cheapness will be what we leave behind. Things that last forever but we only want for an instant. Moments of desire conditioned, coddled, nourished, pacified, and satisfied (but never completely) by the stuff of markets: the goods, the commodities, the valuables, the tchotchkes, The Fulfillment made manifest, the holy sacrament that is the transubstantiation of capitalism. Our mass whims propel products into an endless life. They will outlive us all and their own meaningfulness, these little bits of infinity. Who knew infinity could be so ugly? Or so captivating, so titillating, so Mickey Mouse, if only for an instant, if nothing more than a brightly coloured spastic blip on the periphery. We have too much periphery. Everything is on the periphery. Everything sits around us, outside of us, beyond our selves. The periphery is oversaturated with stuff – things to buy, things to make, things to sell. All fleeting and insubstantial. All indestructible garbage transfigured. The periphery is a zone of desensitization and disorientation. We’ve lost focus. In every way. Our blind spot is at the centre. Our field of vision might as well be empty. We have to focus. It’s narrowing. We might not see it through all the sensual debris. But it’s narrowing. And our values are crystallizing. Not becoming clearer, but solidifying, fossilizing, becoming dense impacted things. Geological records confirm it, we embed our forever provisional values in rock. We change the world.
I used to collect rocks as a kid. Now my son does. If you’d call it collecting. He’s four. He just likes taking things home. Walking sticks, pine cones, and cattails too. Don’t we all like taking things home – to our home, to our way, to assimilate, to adopt, colonize, own? In our microscopic worlds, small things become precious so quickly. Big ones – like our planet – not so much. We had currency before we knew we had a planet. There was the abstraction of chlorophyll, sweaty toil, breeding, heat, and energy before we knew a planet. We gave “you owe me” form, we gave debt space in this world, we made it tangible thousands of years before we found out we live on an oasis floating around ever-expanding badlands. And we still don’t seem to be totally convinced that we’re not at the centre of it all. Not that there is a centre. But we sure do try hard to put ourselves there. We are a sustained, epic lapse in judgment. Always on the release. A binge species. A carnival in geological time. It’s so easy to slip into an air of carnival, of nihilism, predicated on the short span of life and the little harm spontaneity can do. It is. And it’s absolutely wrong. Completely false. Totally invalid. But it’s beautiful. Both plastiglomerate and us. It’s art. Not inherently. But nothing really is. We make art of how we’ve screwed up in geological time – a screw-up so expansive no one individual mind could ever fully grasp it. Our impact is beyond our capacity to measure. We impose our short term on the time of rocks – the history of the universe – a thing so much bigger than ourselves we’ll never see it. Our margin of error is centuries beyond ourselves. In ways we will never fully know, we change the world.
Some might say that displaying this debauchery glorifies it, that we’re reveling in all the hedonistic poetry these objects have, that aestheticizing a problem makes us feel like it’s less of a problem, that it makes us feel better, that it’s okay and it’s not our fault. Innocence, an internal unknowing, a particular sort of vacancy within, a cushioning distance between the brutal textures of reality and the self, makes room for desire. I want to burn plastic and rock so that I can have my own plastiglomerate too! But I won’t. I can covet like an adult. My desire is tempered by the embodied fact that we’re ruining our planet. The rocks stare back. If you spend time with them, you’ll know. If you hold one, carry around the subtle heft of polluting this world, you’ll know. If you smell the fire humanity’s stone coalesced in, if you reach into its inception, its life myth, you’ll know. And that’s why it’s not wrong to make note of, even to take pleasure in, all that is beautiful in our failing. Because as our eyes trace their exotic dimpling, flamboyant mutations, and questionable makeup, they, with great silence and honesty, confront us with what they are, our fate, and the unbearable truth that it’s our responsibility. Because we change the world.
Image courtesy of the artist.