Thursday, April 23, 2020

Microplastics and Coexistence Kat Austen and Nana MacLean

Discussion Workshop and Livestream

Wednesday 22 April 2020 from 5:30-7:00 pm

What we consider to be our environment unequivocally and ubiquitously contains plastic. It has been found at the outskirts of human reach: at the top of Mount Everest, in Arctic ice, and at the bottom of the Mariana trench. Plastic is becoming part of our geology and the lively surrounding of many organisms on this planet – a new material and habitat providing new stories and life forms.

The overabundance of this human-made material challenges our concepts of the natural and former sites of waste and refuse might have gotten a new fertile potential: Trees grow on plastic dumps, bacteria and fungi evolve to feed on PET. Plastic might be disrupting our idea of nature but is it really disrupting nature itself?
While plastic can be detrimental to the quality of an ecosystem, plastic pollution is also a carbon sink, storing carbon and keeping carbon dioxide and methane out of the atmosphere. But is this carbon sink, itself an embodiment of industrial processes that contribute to the climate crisis, in competition or complementarity to forests? Using DIY science and artistic research, Kat Austen has been working on a new project Stranger to the Trees* exploring the coexistence of microplastics with birch trees.

In soil, microorganisms are involved in degradation processes of both natural and synthesized material. In order to build a first understanding of the plastisphere as a living micro-habitat, Nana MacLean started characterizing the microbial community on plastic debris in soil and landfills she has visited during her Phd research. With molecular data in her hands, she’s questioning if bacterial life isn’t already “owning” the plastisphere as a new nature.

In the DIY Hack the Panke programme's (Un)Real Ecologies workshops by Nana MacLean and Kat Austen, participants work together to research the coexistence of microplastics with the Panke River in Berlin Wedding. The Sushi Roulette workshop series uses DIY chemistry to search for microplastics in fish guts. Coexistence of plastic with non-artificial entities in the environment, and with humans, is a burgeoning area of research, which has been explored through participatory interdisciplinary techniques and should be discussed from many different angles.

This Earth Day, join Kat Austen and Nana MacLean to discuss the coexistence of microplastics in the environment and what it means for nature and ourselves. During this online talk, we will invite your minds with us to go visiting the plastisphere as artists, chemists and biologists, trees and bacteria, humans and particles – negotiating together a plan of coexistence with microplastics on this planet.

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