A legacy of resistance to plastics can be traced back to the peak of the petrochemical hegemony around a century ago. However, it wasn’t until the mid-2010s, when the annual mass of plastics produced exceeded the mass of humanity itself, that their toxic effects – environmental, biological and psychological – became impossible to ignore. Symptoms previously ascribed to stress and poor self-care were shown to have direct causal links with plastics exposure from countless vectors, including clothing, water and food.
Despite the scientific evidence, it took the tireless work of activists, often suffering from the pathologies in question, to turn the tide of public opinion against the producers of “convenience”. The group called THERMOSET were the most dramatic, staging public interventions where they would encase their bodies in plastics in public spaces, but there were many others.
It is hard to grasp the ubiquity of petrochemical artefacts during the early decades of the 21st Century. Even for those who lived through them, the extent of the iconoclasm is almost incomprehensible. Hence the artefacts in this collection evoke a kind of inverse nostalgia, a retroactive revulsion at the extent to which we once surrounded, covered and penetrated ourselves with the by-products of the Great Extraction.
by Paul Raven
The alien within
Today, a committee of the national scientific council has released a report with damning conclusions regarding hundreds of deaths previously seen as unexplained. All these fatalities, the committee concludes after an extensive review of the available evidence, are plastic-related. The report condemns government authorities for ‘failing in what once would have been seen as their primary task; protecting the health and safety of their citizens.’
They suffered from fatigue, rashes, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, memory loss – in short, from that ill-defined cluster of symptoms that most GP’s will diagnose as stress-related. The question we should have been asking, but didn’t: stress from what?
This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the report: our inability to see what was so obviously coming. We all knew the pictures of birds and whales suffocated by plastic. We were used to the suffering of others, non-human or otherwise. When in the 2010s the controversy surrounding breast implants erupted, the public was quick to condemn women driven by ‘vanity’. They had allowed alien substances such as silicon, epoxy resins, polyvinyl chloride and other substances into their bodies, trusting naively that this toxic mixture would remain safely contained within the implants themselves. According to a commonly heard comment, this was a ‘pathetic’ group for relying on the state to spell out the risks of plastics.
Meanwhile, invisible microbeads found their way into all our bodies. Unnoticed, they crept into our blood, lymph nodes and livers, which ultimately led to the fatalities that have only now been explained. Blame can no longer be shifted towards irresponsible consumers. Unless we acknowledge that all of us, without a single exception, belong to that group and have done so for years. The alien is now in all of us, and it is here to stay.
by Wytske Versteeg