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Final presentation: plastic in paradisum

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plastic in paradisum is a digital, interactive archive of plastic objects I found washed up on the beach at Dead Horse Bay. It’s a creative interrogation of the social processes that confer value on the objects that surround us.

You can visit the full collection & project website here.

To be honest, I was surprised by how much information about each object was available online. I was able to track down full histories of most objects, including information about the manufacturing company, the material, original newspaper advertisements, and other details I did not expect to find.

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Winthrop pHisoHex bottle
Date: 1930-1950
Manufactured: New York, NY
Material: Low density polyethylene plastic
Description:

Winthrop-Stearns Inc. was a pharmaceutical company that underwent several mergers. A 1922 merger resulted in Sterling Drug, an American global pharmaceutical company that was later divided and sold to other pharma companies.

This particular bottle contained pHisoHex (pHisoderm with hexachlorophene), a preoperative cleansing agent for eye surgery. Initially used exclusively by surgeons, the product was later re-marketed to the public as a skin cleanser in the 1950s.

Polyethylene was first manufactured on a commercial scale during the Second World War by the British company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and eventually American companies began to manufacture polyethylene in the U.S. After the war ended, polyethylene was used to create squeezable bottles for antiperspirant. The flexible squeeze bottle emerged in the 1950s as a high density form of polyethylene.

Here is the final presentation I shared with the class:

The feedback I received from the class was extremely helpful. Most notably, our instructor Stefani pointed out that this project invokes feelings of nostalgia, but perhaps not the disgust that we associate with trash. In short, by decontextualizing the objects we tend to forgot that all this stuff was trash when I found it. Another student suggested adding more objects that are identifiably “trash” – a take-away container, a bottle, a plastic bag, etc. I plan to make adjustments to the project as I prepare the project for ITP’s Spring 2016 show.

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Temporary Expert

Project update: Plastic in paradisum.

What counts as the material of vital materialism? Is it only human labour and the socio-economic entities made by men using raw materials? Or is materiality more potent than that? How can political theory do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in every event and every stabilization? Is there a form of theory that can acknowledge a certain ‘thing-power’, that is, the irreducibility of objects to the human meanings or agendas they also embody?

– Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

This week I continued making 3D scans of the pieces of discarded plastic that I’d found. I need to continue making the 3D scans and figure out the best way to catalogue each item, including information about where and when the item was manufactured, where the item was found, and how long it will take to disintegrate.

A baby doll:

Discarded baby doll

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Unknown
Material: Synthetic rubber (plastic)

A blue bottle:

Discarded hairspray bottle

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Helene Curtis Industries, Inc., Chicago, approx. 1953
Material: Plastic, most likely High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Est. date of decomposition: 2403

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A pink bottle:

Discarded pink bottle

Found: Dead Horse bay, 03/31/2016.
Manufacturer: Helene Curtis Industries, Inc.
Material: Plastic