This is a distant death, a pelagic death, a nano-death, a colloidal death, an invisible death. Yet there is also life in plastics. In July 2013 a scientific paper published by Linda Amarall Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory revealed the very first detailed analysis of bacteria that feed off of plastics (figure 2). Zettler and her group declares “We unveiled a diverse microbial community of heterotrophs, autotrophs, predators, and symbionts, a community we refer to as the Plastisphere ” Their study shows that the Plastisphere is brimming with new microbic life whose inner workings aren’t yet fully understood.
According to the primordial soup theory , about 4 billion years ago life starts in the oceans when inorganic matter turns into organic molecules . Today, the oceans have turned into a plastic soup (figure 3) . In the light of the very recent scientific studies one simple question emerges: “If life started today in the oceans of plastic, what kind of lifeforms would emerge out of this contemporary primordial ooze?.” An Ecosystem of Excess is a potential answer to this question : a new linnean taxonomy of species of excess, that can thrive in man-made extreme environments such as the Pacific Trash Vortex. Starting with the microbial communities discovered by Zettler’s group, an Ecosystem of Excess suggests a series of interconnected species burgeoning in pelagic plastic, chemical sludge and other debris . The design of plastisphere follows Jacob von Uexkull’s concept of Umwelt : the perceptual world in which an organism acts as a subject . Hence extra emphasis is given to the sensory modalities of each organism, their “worldview” is constructed starting with their sensoria designed to identify plastic.
According to Uexkull there are two parts that form the environment: “... for everything a subject perceives belongs to its perception world [Merkwelt], and everything it produces, to its effect world [Wirkwelt]. These two worlds, of perception and production of effects, form one closed unit, the environment [Umwelt].” In an Ecosystem of Excess an organism’s perception world is primarily constructed by the plastic sense, a collection of sensory cells or a sense organ that can successfully detect plastic. Detecting plastic is detecting industrial polymerization. A petrochemical advocated by oil companies for decades now, plastic is a synthetic polymer chain made up of monomers. Plastic’s molecular logic is based on repetition. In fact the chemical genesis of plastic resembles the very symbol of mass production, the assembly line. A monomer is attached to a monomer, again and again erecting a monotonous geometry, on par with the soul-destroying flatness of the assembly line (figure 4). As the mass-produced consumer goods occupy the shelves of warehouses; their skeleton, connective tissue and skin plastic polymers, occupy the molecular space in an endless growth. Plastic sense then not only perceives this molecular architecture of industrial capitalism but also activates a Merkwelt , a post-human effect world where in a Darwinian leap an Ecosystem of Excess inhabitants build the next chapter in the preternatural immortality of plastic.
An Ecosystem of Excess Research Questions
- What new life forms would emerge out of a contemporary primordial soup if life were to start today?
- When biology is the new media for art, what kind of organs, tissues, organisms would come to being, reflecting the current cultural, ecological and political status quo of the planet
- What would art be like, in the not-so-far future when mankind has evolved beyond man? After the planet has transformed beyond control?