TRACING AFTERLIVES: Visualising the deep time persistence of plastic waste

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This research proposes that engagement with, and exposure to, warped plastics found in the Great Barrier Reef can facilitate understandings of the longevity of plastic waste, as they provide direct and witnessable evidence of how plastics persist after humans. It argues that the slow material changes to these plastics—such as warping, melting and clusters of marine growths—can be interpreted to form stories that visualise, communicate and open up conversation about the longevity of plastic. Using a Research through Design methodology as a sense-making and articulation tool, this thesis adopts multiple methods of experimentation to explore how these stories may be generated. Methods including photographic documentation, material play, speculative storytelling and participatory methods draw on creative precedents that deal with plastic as well as the ecological arguments of theorist Jane Bennett, among others, to materialise these stories. This research proposes that generating these stories can, for both me as a designer and for my participants, stimulate dialogue about our human understandings of time, and open up ethical consideration about the wider effects of plastic consumption on the world. It argues that storytelling can successfully stimulate these conversations and shifts in perception about the persistence of plastic waste. To confirm this hypothesis, participatory design workshops are engaged as final experiments which test, communicate and observe how creating these stories inspires a dialogue about the deep time longevity of plastic. The outcome of this inquiry—a portfolio of experiments that critically documents and presents this process—demonstrates how stories can be generated to encourage ecological understandings about the existence of plastic in these post-disposal spaces. It also demonstrates how warped plastics can provide a point of access to comment on plastic waste on a larger scale, and prompt conversation about the ever-continuing afterlives of plastic.
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