Plasticene Marine evokes encounters between marine life and plastics.

Curated by JCU's Creative Ecologies research collective, the exhibition is compelled by a shared sense of urgency about the need for human behavioural change as plastic pollution dramatically impacts the ecologies of ocean habitats. The exhibition will feature art made from marine debris by Robyn Glade-Wright and Barbara Dover, accompanied by commentary from marine scientists, community activists and performance poet, MC Nannarchy.

The Cairns Institute I March 16-April 26 2018 I James Cook University


Jennifer Deger, Barbara Dover, Robyn Glade-Wright, Mark Hamann, Mia Hoogenboom, Helen Ramoutsaki, Daniela Vavrova, Bennett Walker, Matt Wheldon


In tropical north Queensland, the connectivity between forest, ocean, the Great Barrier Reef, littoral zones, inland waterways, lakes and wetlands is never more apparent than during monsoonal rains and cyclones. During these times of deluge, swelling, and overflow, the excess of water replenishes networks and relationships extending thousands of kilometres across the continent and out to sea.

Humans play an ever-increasing part in this watery world of interconnection. Through run-off from agricultural drains, the sewerage of cities and townships, and the release of effluent directly into the ocean, we contribute passenger solutes, particles and debris that flow from waterbody to waterbody with increasingly global consequences.

Some of the most invasive and pernicious of these pollutants are plastics from our drink bottles, toothbrushes, straws, clothing fibres, food wrappers, footwear, marine floats, cigarette butts and a host of other household and industrial goods. More mobile than other human-made materials, the environmental effects of plastics have become a significant problem[i]. They congregate in floating islands such as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, sink into sediments, degrade and release toxic chemicals, wash back to beaches, entangle and are ingested by marine biota, become trapped in Arctic ice, and melt with pebbles and sand to form plastiglomerates[ii].

In 2000, atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, and limnologist[iii], Eugene Stoermer[iv], proposed the term ‘Anthropocene’ for the current geological epoch: an era in which humans have become a force of nature. ‘Anthropocene’ follows the nomenclature of ‘cene’ for the ‘new’ or ‘recent’ epochs with ‘anthropos’ to designate the human-created change evidenced in geological strata. In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that plastics are key agents in anthropogenic environmental change. In their review of the geological cycle of plastics, Zalasiewicz et al. note their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene, considering some plastics as potentially permanent ‘technofossils’ that will provide a long-term record of human activity[v]. Unofficially, the term ‘Plasticene’ for an Age within the Anthropocene has become associated with such research[vi].  For example, anthropologist Anand Pandian, explores the implications of living in the Plasticene by linking the plasticity of the material with the plasticity of human behaviour, “the power of encounters to catalyze new modes of life”[vii].

Curated by Jennifer Deger, Robyn Glade-Wright, Maxine Newlands and Helen Ramoutsaki


Robyn Glade-Wright and Barbara Dover make environmental art in which beauty and horror co-mingle. Their aim is to produce moments of disquiet in viewers that can engender reflection about the impact of human agency on the habitat of living species and provoke social awareness and behavioural change in relation to environmental issues.

Helen Ramoutsaki’s rapping grandmother, MC Nannarchy, turns her attention from marmalade-making to the spread of plastic marine debris on tropical north Queensland beaches. Nanna takes the opportunity to hoard a cache of polyvinyl chloride in the hope that it will fossilise into a lasting memorial to her in the sedimentary layers of the Plasticene Epoch. The question is whether Nanna’s bid for global plastic supremacy will be thwarted by her nemesis, the movement to reduce plastic waste.


Crutzen, P. J., & Stoermer, E. F. (2000). The “Anthropocene”. The International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Newsletter(41), 17-18.

Pandian, A. (2016). "Plastic.". Theorizing the Contemporary.  Retrieved from

Reed, C. (2015). Dawn of the Plasticene age. New Scientist, 225(3006), 28-32.

Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C. N., Ivar do Sul, J. A., Corcoran, P. L., Barnoskye, A. D., Cearretaf, A., Edgeworth, M., Gałuszka, A., Jeandel, C., Leinfelder, R., McNeill, J. R., Steffen, W., Summerhayes, C., Wagreich, M., Williams, M., Wolfe, A. P., & Yoan, Y. (2016). The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene(13), 4–17.

[i] Zalasiewicz et al., p. 6.

[ii] Ibid, pp. 9-10.

[iii] The study of freshwater ecosystems including lakes and ponds, rivers, springs, streams and wetlands.

[iv] 2000, p.17.

[v] Ibid 2016, p. 15.

[vi] For example, Reed 2015, pp. 28-32.

[vii] 2016.

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