Plastic, I Love You

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

(This is the first image that came up when I searched “Plastic Love” in Free Photos. Interesting. As a lover of plastic food models, the cupcake is particularly appealing.) This is the beginning of an essay I am writing for my next collection, The Late Great Golden State. (The title essay comes out Fall 2019 with The Bellingham Review — thanks so much Suzanne Paola for inviting a piece and for accepting it.) Here is the current draft. I am really vibe-ing on writing short these days. Let me know what you think.

On Plastic

Plastic is a miracle and I love it. Right now we are all talking about how we hate plastic but why should we do that? It’s like burning your own house down. Plastic is in all of us and in everything. Plastic is better at existing on Earth than humans are! It takes so many forms and it never, ever vanishes, like human bodies do. No! Not plastic. Resilient. Noble. Forever.

My forever love.

Think of this substance with tenderness: We can mold it into anything. It absorbs and emits light, it can be ductile or rigid, it is so strong, yet so magnificently light. You can see why humans fell in love with it. A substance of our design imbued with so many gorgeous qualities. It seals, it insulates, it protects. Plastic serves us. 

However. Now are days when we wish this service had been more curtailed. We love you, plastic, but we are also now terrified by you. What have we created? And, gulp, can we get rid of you? Yet you are our intimate. Each day, I touch you in your many forms. I sit on a plastic toilet seat at dawn, I drizzle eucalyptus-scented soap across my arms in the shower — from a plastic bottle. (I think about how glass bottles in the bath would be so dangerous!) 

And so I meditate on your brilliance. How many of us have you saved? I know you saved me after a car crash, formed into so many tubes lacing into so many holes in my body. Plastic: Stranger blood flowed into me, guided by plastic. Nourishment came to me. You protected all the sterile gauze and pads when my babies were born. 

But oh! Plastic how we misunderstood you. How we had this craven desire for you, how we pushed you to be all things to all people. Yes! How we enslaved you to our capitalist markets, how we found you could be made into cheap versions of coveted animal materials — tortoise, bone — how we called you vegan leather. 

Capitalism: You made this possible in the late 20th century. You were ready to serve, unjudging, ready to be useful. And now what is your recompense? You are 

Or. Maybe you had a plan from the beginning. Maybe you wanted to be not simply of us but in us. And so you waited and waited and saw how with each painful accommodation, the heat, the chemicals, the hours of molding, you might have a shot. What if you could break free from our systems and, for instance, go for a swim in the ocean? Your larger plastic brain saw the ocean from so many perspectives, from sunscreen bottle to chair to strap around handsome lifeguard to buoy slung across handsome lifeguard, to straw, to cup lid. What if, you imagined, you could find a way to live in that ocean, that great gelatinous sea? What if indeed? 

And so. Here we are. I am you and you are me. You made it into that ocean, so hard to see you there, you exist as a microscopic cloud, you fold into my skin as I dive into the waves. Uncapturable. 

I hesitate to say this but now I wonder: Do I get a vibe of you do you, and I do me? Is that what we have here? Because I want you to know, I do not blame you. I am deeply, madly, deeply in love with you.

What did Roland Barthes say: Ubiquity made beautiful.

We Are the Loop: Feel Its Tug and Pull

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We are the loop. And we love the loop, don’t we, particularly the delusional but understandable idealism that is applied to how we buy and use objects, stuff, all the many things we tote around. Late-Capitalism has us in a very fast loop now and we buy, consume, and discard at a rate that boggles zee mind. Except that it doesn’t really boggle our minds — that is, create a sense of marvel (and if you spell “boggle” with one “g” it means demon or phantom, which I secretly love.)

The thing is, there are people in the world who know this is a real problem, all this buying and trash sorting and not using things for more than five seconds. The thing is we are the loop and we can create some friction to slow it down. How do we do this? Through words and symbols. Through creating processes to slooooooow things dooooooown. Through pausing with people, known and strange to us, to talk about how we feel about it all. Every time we pause to speak to this, read to this, write to this, we slow down the loop.

I gave a talk at the Maldives National University on July 24, 2019, about the ECOPOESIS Movement, which I founded with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and a loop image-object came along for the discussion.

But not any old loop: This is the loop we humans were gifted in 1970, to describe structured reintegration of our waste, through industrial systems, and then back in new and exciting forms. We were not creating too much, for instance, plastic. We were energizing the loop.

ECOPOESIS wants to react to many things: The dearth of language, our need for new signs, the instantiation of ecological discussions in science/political/philosophical circles — often feeling far from the rest of us humans and non-humans. The speed of the loop.

Some of the words I said: “We are also reacting to the current state of ecological messaging and symbols, which we feel are out of date. For example, this ubiquitous American recycling symbol that proposes our plastics are in a perfect loop of reuse. One swim in any of the world’s oceans proves this wrong in the 21st century.”  Gary Anderson, then a 23-year-old student at USC, submitted this design in 1970 for a contest run by the Container Corporation of America — and the brief was to illustrate the path for recycled paper.

I then took off one of my shoes, designed by Rothy’s here in SF, that used re-cycled plastic as its material. I feel good about myself for buying shoes made from plastic (a fantastic material, by the way, which we choose to falsely deify and then demonize to keep Sauren’s Eye off of us as individuals? Perhaps?) To make this point: There is a loop, it is not one that is over there — a glyph to assuage feelings of guilt about your stuff.

You are the loop and the loop is you.

My next post is going to talk about my own love affair with plastics.

 

 

 

ECOPOESIS Goes Global in the Maldives, July 2019

 

Dhangeti Island, The Maldives
ECOPOESIS at MALDIVES NATIONAL UNIVERSITY – my talk starts around the 8 minute mark
Hiiiiii — As many of you know, I founded the ECOPOESIS Movement with my colleagues from California College of the Arts, Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers (both teach in Architecture). I was invited, as part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab (Adam is a founder at CCA, with faculty members Evan Jones and Margaret Ikeda) on the 2019 expedition/site visit/research trip to the Maldives. Margaret and Evan teach an Architecture studio at CCA that prototypes buoyant housing and non-human habits as solving towards rising seas. Rising seas are at the front of the mind in the Maldives, where the 1,000-mile long string of atolls all sit at sea level. As they say, there are no hills in the Maldives. 
On July 24, we were invited to the Maldives National University to give talks about our respective projects — ECOPOESIS and BUOYANT ECOLOGIES.
It was a beautiful evening — more than 150 people attended, including the “Island President,” the brave and inspirational Mohammed Nasheed, who was elected president of the Maldives after years as a political prisoner and life in exile. President Nasheed played a crucial role at the Copenhagen climate talks. His brilliant mind and presence are beautifully portrayed in the documentary, The Island President (2011.) The former president continues to work towards climate solutions for his country. At the end of our lectures, he was invited to the stage and you can hear his electrifying discussion of how the Maldivian people will fight on and survive. Let me know what you think and where the ECOPOESIS Movement might pop up next. We are happy to travel to your place to share this dialogue, making, and writing about climate change.

 

 

 

 

7 July, Ganges, France…

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***This is the second in a series of posts tracing some thoughts and notes from my July 2019 trip around the world. I stopped for two weeks in France followed by two weeks in The Maldives. Very different ecosystems, very different vibes. Many moments of clarity and feelings — about ecologies, climate change, life with other humans and non-humans. One of the best things I heard came from a Swedish designer at the residency in France, as our group, up late, talking, talking, talking in the still (heat-wave) night: “But how do you feel?”  What do we feel as we head deeper into the sixth mass extinction, sitting in a very old market town in the Cevennes, in baking heat? How do the rest of us talk about being ecological — away from theory, science, philosophy, technological solutions, ecological artists? What does it mean to be human in these times? Is it a scream? A dance? A long, loud laugh?

7 July, Ganges, France

This is the night of the Women’s World Cup Final and we watch the match on television in the Thackara home — Autourdethackara on Instagram — a 17th-century construction that invites many comments about all of the humans and their lives before us — the births, the celebrations, the deaths — it is also said to be the locus of a Dumas novel. So the place reverberates with the noise of history.

It has been deadly hot in France, the red map of the country projected across Twitter feeds to show the temperature. But the color red does not help with understanding the feel of the heat. The heat feels like my afternoon nap, the 20 minutes I need to get my breath back — or the feels of sliding into the River Viz each afternoon, the cold mountain water stinging the skin as this mountain water offers a respite for hot skin.

We sit on couches and the fans blow and the windows are open and we are from the Netherlands, England, Sweden, and the one non-human, Rita, is an Italian breed whose instinct is to herd. Everyone, save me, is on the side of the Dutch team, who arrives in Lyon to face Rapinoe et al as the 24 teams winnow down to two. They are tall, these Dutch footballers, and they play a physical game. Rapinoe had noted in a much-earlier interview, casually, while tying her shoes in a locker room, that if they won it all, she would not be going to the “f***ing White House. This comment was picked up, the viral thing, during the actual competition. The only piece of this that I take exception to – because it was such a powerful, informal moment that resonated for so many Americans — is that we not allow the symbol of the White House to stand in for the person who currently makes his residence there. I would prefer that we name him and say, we do not want to visit with him, rather than making the architecture — an important one symbolically — part of the problem. But that’s not my point.

My point is that we are all women watching the game and we are all talking about equal pay and dirty hits and engaged with these two squads as they slam back and forth across the field. We are in different fields, from medical, to engineering, to web development, to writing and we all know about unequal pay and what happens in the workplace. In one exchange, we watch players’ heads bash together trying to get to the ball. Both of the players appear to be knocked out on the field. Someone says: That’s life for you.

We sit and eat tapenade and salads and the heat is omnipresent. This is the time when we are coming off the 40-degrees days. I imagine how things must feel on that field in Lyon. And as the game ends, with the American side victorious, the crowd does this remarkable thing, they start chanting about equal pay.  Then someone — I don’t recall who – says, “There is another way to fix this wage problem. Pay the men what the women are paid and with the savings, fund some climate change initiatives.”

 

2 July 2019, Ganges, France…

Dhangeti Island, The Maldives
July 2019
***This is the first in a series of posts tracing some thoughts and notes from my July 2019 trip around the world. I stopped for two weeks in France followed by two weeks in The Maldives. Very different ecosystems, very different vibes. Many moments of clarity and feelings — about ecologies, climate change, life with other humans and non-humans. One of the best things I heard came from a Swedish designer at the residency in France, as our group, up late, talking, talking, talking in the still (heat-wave) night: “But how do you feel?”  What do we feel as we head deeper into the sixth mass extinction, sitting in a very old market town in the Cevennes, in baking heat? How do the rest of us talk about being ecological — away from theory, science, philosophy, technological solutions, ecological artists? What does it mean to be human in these times? Is it a scream? A dance? A long, loud laugh?

1) 2 July, Ganges, France

Writing is a series of marks on a page. Climate change prompts me to want to make more marks – not in the spirit of *holy sh*t!* — here’s another revelation from Antarctica of our imminent doom! Or here is another revelation about the biology and ecology of our world, some hideous mutation that we all need to stare at before we go back to hacking out our existences?

I am attending a Design retreat in the Cevennes, in the town of Ganges, with John Thackara and Kristi Van Riet, they of Doors of Perception. (They continue these intimate Design meet-ups in their 17th-century home over the next year and I highly recommend.) There are designers from across Europe and North America who have traveled to spend a week talking about diverse projects — the edible forest, how to better address refugee needs, urban food systems, and my own work, ECOPOESIS.

Each morning, we meet with John for 30 minutes solo and then all together to crit and review work. I am here to test some ideas about how to grow ECOPOESIS, a movement and project I founded at California College of the Arts with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, designed to build dialogues, messaging, and forms about how people feel about the world in times of climate change — as ecologies change and how ecologies are changing us, as humans and non-humans — changing our relational identity to places that once felt more familiar.

Gathering people to talk, to create a process for talking, messaging, and form making around climate change is the mission of ECOPOESIS. Our first gathering of 36 humans came together in April, 2019, in San Francisco, and we centered our discussion on the work of ecological philosopher Timothy Morton, who crystallized a lot of our thinking; his brilliant idea of hyperobjects, these inchoate but massively distributed things like plutonium and Styrofoam, these ideas of otherness and uncanniness, these ideas of weirdness.

However, there has been an issue with the Ganges gang around the language I use when I talk about our movement. I am stuck a bit in the “straight outta Compton” speak of Academia. Thackara is teaching me how to make this less mind-boggling and more focused on our goal: To get all people talking, regardless of age, discipline, politics — to get away from less-accessible theory and into more legible contemporary discussion. To have a process for looking at how we feel about climate, racism, speciesism, misogyny, and economic justice. We want to create a dialogue that does not require a lot of “pre-knowledge” of Heidegger et al.

We are part of the zeitgeist of these 21st century philosophical ideas and yet we need to be a tendril that explores in the way we think as artists and designers and architects — through prototyping forms.

When this work with Thackara ends each morning, the de-Academizing of this ECOPOESIS chat towards more accessibility, I find myself sitting in a large book-filled room, hearing my next Antarctic book. It has a name, Antarctica Poetica, and it has a form, a series of Signal Years. It pours out of me — after many years of slowly whispering its goals and intentions to me. I don’t know now but what I will learn is that there are about 12,000 words that will emerge in France. And I will share some of them here.