DIY Hack the Panke
Microplastics and Coexistence | Online Workshop Discussion
Kat Austen and Joana MacLean
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. This Earth Day, join Kat Austen and Joana 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.
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 Joana 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.
Kat Austen is a person. In her artistic practice, she focusses on environmental issues. She melds disciplines and media, creating sculptural and new media installations, performances and participatory work. Austen’s practice is underpinned by extensive research and theory, and driven by a motivation to explore how to move towards a more socially and environmentally just future. Working from her studio in Berlin, Austen is currently EMAP / EMARE Artist in Residence at WRO Art Center, Artist Fellow at Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Artist in Residence at the Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences, University College London and Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL Arts and Sciences.
Joana MacLean studied Biology at the UvA Amsterdam and finished her Master studies in Molecular Biology at the University Potsdam. Besides her studies, she has been involved in projects that crossed borders between disciplinary styles and methods – embracing both speculative design and performative collaborations. As a PhD student, Nana is currently working on microbial communities in anthropogenic landscapes and plastic polluted grounds at the GFZ Helmholtz Center Potsdam. Her research focuses on Plastic as biological habitat, and furthermore explores future ecologies and areas of research that involve storytelling and other imaginative methodologies. Nana is based in Potsdam and Berlin.
DIY Hack the Panke is a collective of artists, scientists and curators exploring the rich historical and ecological heritage of the Panke River in Mitte, Wedding and Pankow. Based at Art Laboratory Berlin, we thank Panke e.V. for their cooperation in this workshop and the Fachbereich Kunst und Kultur Bezirksamt Mitte and the Bezirkskulturfonds for their generous support of our 2019 public programme.
The event is organised in context of DIY Hack the Panke.
*Stranger to the Trees is realised within the framework of the European Media Art Platforms EMARE program at WRO Art Center with support of the Creative Europe Culture Programme of the European Union”