Plastiglomerates and Speculative Geologies

Plastiglomerate_1 When one thinks of monuments, inevitably visions of solidity and stone come to mind. Ozymandias tipped over in a drunken fit of ambition, transformed into a pile of desert-marooned rock. Cleopatra’s Needle on the River Thames in London, a study in endurance and process that cryptically withstands centuries. And so the rocks, fossils and new geologies that give rise to an Anthropocene Monument might similarly be counted as dense remnants of an unfathomable temporality. Rather than excavations of granite or limestone, however, this monument would be composed of more modern materials: processed metals, colored glass, and inevitably, plastic.

This contribution to an Anthropocene Monument then proposes to add a few noble boulders from the geologies-in-the-making sedimented from our anthropogenic industries. Hardly a tale of science fiction, these boulders are already turning up as new composites of plastic material, what some scientists have referred to as “an anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record.”[1] In other words, we are witness to the making of “a new ‘stone’ formed through the intermingling of melted plastic, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris.” This “plastiglomerate” is an emerging material that forms through the accumulation of plastics, and which can be said to provide a “marker” of the Anthropocene, the lasting residue of our earthly activities.

Plastiglomerate_2Not simply a new bundle of “synthetic” materials, these plastic rocks are integral to the new forms of life–organisms and their milieu–that might in turn make use of plastiglomerates as residence, foodstuff, and energy source. Far from the distinction between organic and inorganic, plastiglomerates become the new minerality in and through which other organisms might emerge, long beyond our own passing out of geological time. From the speculative organisms taking shape in the plastisphere,[2] to the speculative geologies of plastiglomerates, we have made our own distinct contribution to future musings on natural history. This contribution endures in the sedimentations of bottle tops and cling film, shopping bags, fishing net and disposable tubes. Perhaps less a record of solemnity, but surely a lasting impression, nothing less than scrawling “we were here” into the strata of the earth.

Text written for “Anthropocene Monument” publication organised by Tomas Saraceno and Sasha Engelmann

[1] Patricia L. Corcoran et al., “An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record,” GSA Today 24, no. 6 (2014), 4-8.

[2] See Jennifer Gabrys, “Speculating with Organisms in the Plastisphere,” in Pinar Yoldas: An Ecosystem of Excess, edited by Heike Catherina Mertens (Berlin: Ernst Schering Foundation, 2014).

Images: plastiglomerates from “An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record”