‘PLASTIC: Promises of a Home-Made Future’ is an exhibition curated based on a year-long research done as a fellow at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, Which was on show in the institute January-April 2015.
It explores the relation between plastic and the 3D printing market. Plastic is one of the most important raw materials used in 3D printing. This new technology could create a new consumer model, turning plastic from an ecological threat into an ecological promise. But, as the history of plastic has taught us, the future does not always turn out as we hoped it would.
‘PLASTIC: Promises of a Home-Made Future’ takes the form of a ‘docubition’: a combination of documentary and exhibition. In this docubition, visitors follow the history of plastic, with all its highs and lows. We then zoom in on the technological innovation of 3D printing, an industry still in its infancy. Only time will tell whether new models of production will result, or whether the industry will turn out to be an existing capitalist model dressed up in new clothes. It is a battle for our hearts, our heads and our wallets. And we find ourselves at the centre of it. So what are we going to do with plastic?
Scientists, journalists, industry representatives, makers and designers all have their say in this docubition. On display are unique objects such as an authentic billiard ball made from the first type of plastic, and a fragment of ‘plastiglomerate’, a geological deposit containing plastic that was found in early 2014. The docubition leads to an interactive installation, called the Perpetual Plastic Project, where a number of times a day visitors themselves can shred plastic waste, make filament, and use it to print new objects.
A full dossier of the research and exhibition could be found in the following link.
Plastic is everywhere. It is the varnish on our table, in the paint on our walls. It is in our cloths and in our phones, in the packaging of our food, in our cars, our shoes, our wallets, our toys. Plastic has become such an intrinsic part of our lives, that this material, born outside of nature and aimed to replace it, has now made its footprint back in nature as a new type of geological form was recently discovered in Hawaii, one we can name as the first plastic fossil.
And herein lies the problem. In the course of a century, plastic was transformed from a democratic promise of progress, to an icon for the perils of capitalism. We have come to know it as the face of mass consumerism, mass production and as the symbol of industrialization’s footprint on the planet. In many ways, plastic is the material of the past, as the search goes on for more sustainable solutions.
However, 3D printing offers a different role for plastic, one that might still turn it to a material of the future. While more and more materials can be printed, plastic is definitely the core of 3D printing, and most especially in the promise of home printing. Home printing may yet transform plastic’s role – from an ecological threat to an ecological promise*; from mass production to singular production; and from blind mass consumerism, to a new tool for democratic, political and social change.
Whether plastic takes on this new role is still undecided. We are in a unique point where a new industry’s standards are still forming. Communicational, legal, social and economic battles are being waged, pulled and pushed with makers, activists and radical thinkers on one hand, and businessmen, politicians, lobbyists and PR men on the other.
They fight to determine whether plastic and 3d printing will take this new democratic and sustainable future, or be used as yet another tool for commercialization towards a path to known to us.
Designers, architects and other creatives have a unique opportunity to prove their ability to promote a true widespread change. Rather than wait and see which direction the industry will take only to follow suite, they can actively work today to define where they believe the 3d printing industry should be. They can define the boundaries and possibilities that will promote plastic’s new future, as a material of endless possibilities, of great democratic powers, and as a re-usable model of sensible consumption.