Ghosts of the Panthalassic Ocean

32 images Created 31 Jan 2020

200 million years ago, in the days of the Pangaean continent, the Panthalassic Ocean covered most of the earth. Plankton living in the ocean drew energy from sunlight, and when they died, trapped that energy in their bodies as they sank to the ocean floor. Sediment buried the layers of plankton. Over the course of the Mesozoic era, the next 100 million years or so, the process continued, and beneath the accumulation of sediment, heat and pressure transformed the dead plankton into oil.

Sometime after 1965, in the Anthropocene era, the oil was extracted, heated into a gas, and piped to a fractional distillation tower, where a combination of boiling point and weight separated the various hydrocarbon derivatives like gasoline, kerosene, naptha, and so forth. High heat and pressure cracked the hydrocarbons of naptha and natural gas into ethylene. A catalyst, high heat and pressure created polyethylene powder, which was combined with additives, melted, extruded, cooled, cut, and formed into High Density Polyethylene pellets. The pellets were shipped to a factory, where they were liquified under high heat and pressure. The liquid plastic was inflated with air and blown into a long tube shape. As it cooled, the tube was flattened by rollers, cut to width, and formed into the shape of a bag. The handles were punched out and the sides sealed with heat. The bags were shipped to a store, filled with weekly groceries, and carried home.

It doesn’t matter what was done with the bags after that. There is nowhere to put them. High Density Polyethylene does not biodegrade – no known microorganism recognizes it as food. Sunlight makes the polymer brittle, and it cracks into smaller and smaller particles, enters the food chain and is consumed by humans in their food and breathed in from the air. It never truly disappears. There is plastic inside of you.

We are haunted by the ghosts of Mesozoic plankton.

Cyanotypes of single-use/disposable plastic grocery bags on cotton sateen fabric and on hand-coated watercolor and printmaking paper.

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