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The plastic stone

12.04.2018 / ARTICLE / 15 MIN READ

Andy Hughes “Plasto-Alien”. 2017. C-Type, 16 x 20 Unique wax print


It’s not a new thing. For the last years -while still unknown to many-, the term “Anthropocene” has sparked a veritable explosion of discussion across corners of the sciences, humanities and arts over the years. Fierce debates are emerging over the potential and limits of its thesis: the idea that we’ve entered a new geologic epoch wherein humans are actively altering Earth systems.


New elements and specimens are coming into view as the first effects of this changing natural history and related to the increasing plastic debris pollution. 

Andy Hughes “Gloves, ark and molten collected beach plastic”. 1990.
In 2012, oceanographer Charles Moore, geologist Patricia Corcoran and artist Kelly Jazvac travelled to the polluted Kamilo Beach to study the burial potential of plastic debris. What they found was that plastic and beach detritus had been combined into a single substance by the course of time and bonfires.

Plastic emerged -in part- as a promise to displace specific products that relied on animal and natural resources (bone, ivory, whale oil, feathers, leather, cork, rubber…). It was also noted for its convenience and durability. However, the true reality is that plastics are astonishingly becoming an abundant waste accumulated in oceans, seas, and lakes, endangering the marine organisms and their ecosystems.

The material discovered by Moore, Corcoran and Jazvac was formed by the agglutination of a mix of molten plastic debris and natural sediments, including sand, wood, and rock, which overall density inhibits it from being transported by wind or water, thereby increasing its potential for burial and subsequent preservation. That means that some plastic waste has found an unexpected way to persist as a new type of stone. The name they chose for it is “Plastigomerate” and it represents a feature of this “post-natural” scenario of the Anthropocene.

Kamilo Beach in Hawaii.
Kelly Jazvac “Rock Record”. 2017.
In the past, it was assumed that “nature” was the one thing that could never be made from plastic. But now, Plastigomerate suggests that this is no longer the case.
Kelly Jazvac “Plastigomerate”. Photo by Jeff Elstone.
Plastigomerate sample found in Kamilo beach (Hawaii).

The art context is engaging with the ecological issues and the wildfire impact of plastic trash in our Oceans. Through their work, some artists, collectives and art platforms are answering questions such as “can art make visible big problems such as the present environmental impact?”, “what point of view can art add to the scientific perspective?” or “what does it mean to understand the geologic records as a sculptural object?

From different approaches, some artists stand on a critical reflection over the ecological crash, while others are more interested in the possibilities of the Plastigomerate as a new material to collect, display and work with, attracted by its succulent forms and colours, as well as by the uncertainty of its origins. As Heather Davis says, “accidentally or incidentally, it is an aesthetic thing”.

Kelly Jazvac “Plastigomerate”. Photo by Jeff Elstone.

We want to bring up the work of three artists that are working on with this new material. One is the mentioned American artist Kelly Jazvac, who shows Plastigomerate pieces as sculptural ready-mades. Relocating these pieces from its original beaches to glass cases in art exhibitions serves Jazvac to demonstrate how human actions are impacting on nature. 


Kelly Jazvac “Rock Record”. 2017.
Kelly Jazvac “Plastigomerate”. Photo by Jeff Elstone.
Kelly Jazvac “Plastigomerate”.

The Hawaiian Maika’i Tubbs is another artist who works over Plastigomerate. In his case, he attempts to replicate the resulting material using found detritus and then creates a series of sculptures and installations around themes such as obsolescence, consumption and ecology. He regards discarded objects as untapped resources and transforms them to reveal a world of hidden potential and the blurred boundaries between organic and artificial life.

British photographer Andy Hughes also discovered Plastigomerate rocks in 1990 and decided to integrate these new forms in his photographic works. Since then, he’s been working on a series of photos (5×4 Fuji Transparency film) in which the “landscapes” represented claim the discovery of something new. At the same time, he explores Plastigomerate’s own language.

In common, all of their works speak to more than human pollution, but also about geology, colonization and natural knowledge.

Maika’i Tubbs “Stepping Stones”.
Maika’i Tubbs' artwork.
Andy Hughes “Fishing net, beach ball and molten collected beach plastic”. 1990
It seems that we’re having hard evidence for the three C’s threats: capitalism, colonialism, and consumerism. It might be time to face it!

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