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Taking Care of Plastic: Discursive jewellery and anthropogenic debris


Abstract and Figures

Tons of plastic waste pile up in our oceans by the minute. This paper discusses a jewellery design project where anthropogenic debris takes centre stage. The project investigates how marine plastic trash literally may be turned into treasures through approaches that transverse design, craft and communication design. The main design material are plastic pieces selected from the shores of Norwegian fiords. Each piece of plastic selected for jewellery is treated as precious. Care is thus a concept that frames this jewellery design project as it both connects to the micro and macro perspectives on plastic. The jewellery is relating aesthetic exploration of tiny fragments of marine plastic waste to global issues of plastic (mis)use-and management. These tiny objects carry histories of our recent past, as well as the story of the earth yet to be written. Caring for these tiny fragments of human presence in nature is thus a material and embodied means for expressing the urgent need for taking better care of the ocean.
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No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 1
Tons of plastic waste pile up in our oceans by the
minute. This paper discusses a jewellery design
project where anthropogenic debris takes centre
stage. The project investigates how marine plastic
trash literally may be turned into treasures through
approaches that transverse design, craft and
communication design. The main design material
are plastic pieces selected from the shores of
Norwegian fiords. Each piece of plastic selected
for jewellery is treated as precious. Care is thus a
concept that frames this jewellery design project as
it both connects to the micro and macro
perspectives on plastic. The jewellery is relating
aesthetic exploration of tiny fragments of marine
plastic waste to global issues of plastic (mis)use
and management. These tiny objects carry histories
of our recent past, as well as the story of the earth
yet to be written. Caring for these tiny fragments of
human presence in nature is thus a material and
embodied means for expressing the urgent need for
taking better care of the ocean.
My family spends large parts of every summer at my
parents’ summerhouse at the south-eastern coast of
Norway. The seaside cabin is located nearby small
islets, beaches and bays. Some of them are much
visited, while others are not, as they only can be
accessed by boat. One day we discovered a beautiful
small beach on the islet Singløya. At first glance, the
beach looked pristine, except for a pile of discarded
plastic objects. However, once ashore, a plastic waste
nightmare materialised before our eyes. Amidst
seashells, stones and seaweed, thousands of plastic
pieces were mixed into the ground. Pieces of plastic
waste had blended into the natural environment. The
beach had become an ‘archaeological’ site, a repository
of fragments from our recent history with plastic. When
looking closely at the ground, a messy archive of
broken, bleached and weather-bitten fragments from
years of plastic use appeared. These traces of human
activity, design, and industrial manufacture had
aggregated through years. It was almost inseparable
from the natural environment.
Figure 1. Earrings made from marine plastic pieces and gold
fittings. The pieces were collected from Singløya, Østfold,
Figure 2: Marine plastic earring as worn. The pieces of plastic
form the central element of each jewellery piece.
The discovery of this beach was pivotal in what later
grew into a multi-faceted explorative jewellery project.
The project specifically revolves around a close study of
plastic pieces collected from the shores of Norway. It
inquires into how these may be turned into discursive
and embodied objects that may be worn as fully
functional jewellery. The beach at Singløya has since
then become a source of material (see fig. 1, 12 & 13).
This paper discusses how we might approach
marine plastic, what is referred to as marine
anthropogenic debris (Jagiello, 2017), as a potential
discursive design material through the medium of
contemporary jewellery. With close reference to notions
of care, embodiment, and discursive design, this paper
asks how care for the ocean may be expressed within an
explorative jewellery design context. It also aims at
connecting discursive approaches to design with notions
of care. This is in particular related to addressing a
difficult issue aesthetically. Care is thus articulated via
the means through which the problem of marine plastic
litter is addressed. The paper is structured as follows:
First, anthropogenic debris and its relations to jewellery
is discussed, followed by a brief section on methods and
hybrid objects. This is followed by positioning the
project in a discursive design frame, a section on
material approaches, as well as a section on mediation
and context. This is followed by sections that take up
various implications of the project, and how the
jewellery may serve as heuristics for raising wider
issues relating to care for the planet, we as a species
inhabits rather aggressively.
In the project, marine anthropogenic debris is
investigated as a potential material for jewellery design,
however leaning slightly towards craft. The jewellery
designer and artist Pennie Jagiello defines
anthropogenic debris as (2017, p 4) ‘…human-made
materials that has been discarded causing serious
negative environmental impacts’. She (2017, p.11)
points to jewellery designers within the broader
community of practice that has found materials and
objects central to their jewellery design practice. These
include among others David Bielander Helen Britton,
and Lisa Walker, just to mention a few. According to
Jagiello, these have been central in raising debate about
what may be considered precious or non-precious, and
about the role of contemporary jewellery as an
expanded discursive design arena.
As jewellery is worn in close proximity to the body, it is
also an embodied form of expression. Wegenstein
(2010, p19) sees the body as ‘…the inseparable medium
of experience, which is to say, as a constituting basis for
all experience, including that of its own thematization’.
Being worn on the body, jewellery may thus be
accessible outside of gallery- or museum settings,
carrying the potential for conversation also in everyday
contexts. Wegenstein (2010) points to the body as a site
for inscription through embellishment practices such as
wearing make-up or jewellery. If recognising the role of
the body in the ways we perceive the world and are
perceived by others, jewellery is a rich platform for
material reflection and potential discourse. Because
jewellery is worn on the body, as embellishment, the
connections to the field of fashion are prominent.
Jewellery and fashion may thus be approached as
wearable articulations and as communication (Barnard
1996), in such linking jewellery to fashionable
Marine plastic pollution is now on the agenda politically
and is a problem that needs to be solved on a global
scale now. Just to be clear: We do not believe that the
pieces of jewellery discussed in this paper will change
the world (fig.12). One might even argue that designing
jewellery from carefully selected pieces of marine
plastic debris not really matters. Or, one may argue that
an aestheticization of marine plastic waste is nothing,
but an obfuscation of the ‘real’ solutions needed for
handling plastic responsively. As we use silver and gold
fittings, we do not only use anthropogenic debris in the
jewellery. Initially, we only used found material.
However, in transforming waste to jewellery, we found
the need to introduce custom silver parts. We strive for
increasing the reuse of silver, as well as the use of fair
No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 3
mined metals. However, we do believe that an
exploration of a ‘new’ jewellery design material as part
of a discursive design project might provide other
insights into marine plastic pollution. Pollution,
unfortunately, crosses national boundaries, and affects
complex marine eco-systems brutally. And, the actions
of those who consume the most affect those who have
the least. It is estimated that every year, the staggering
amount of eight million tons (!) of plastic is thrown into
the ocean ( The marine litter that does not
sink to the bottom of the sea moves across vast
distances with ocean streams. Whilst addressing the
problem of marine plastic litter from within academia,
and from a privileged Nordic position in a
communication and design department, this project
acknowledges its limitations. However, it aims to
articulate further reflections on these issues as the
project evolves.
As the project is a small-scale operation
without a large team of skilled designers,
photographers, jewellers, stylists, make-up artists etc,
the ways through which we are able to mediate the
project is also limited by practical-pragmatic aspects.
However, this also provides freedom to approach
jewellery as an open platform for visual and material
reflection, and as a material point of departure for
discursive design activity outside of the white cube. The
jewellery is designed to be worn by people in their real
Figure 3: Earrings made from marine plastic debris and sterling silver.
The plastic in these earrings is collected in Hoddevik by NOW.
Figure 4: Earrings made from marine plastic debris and sterling silver.
The plastic is used in the shape it was found, except for the hole for
custom hand-made silver fittings.
The research design is characterised by a rather organic
development of the project. This allows it to move along
paths which may branch out as we go. The project is
framed as a reflective journey in conversation with
marine plastic debris as material for jewellery (Schön
1983). It is positioned as a mixed method practice-based
research inquiry. As Durrant et al. (2017, p.3), who
discusses research through design refers to it, such a
mode of inquiry is a practice-based one, one that
…generates transferrable knowledge.’ However, the
project has sprung out of many years of more
theoretically oriented academic research within and
across humanities-based approaches to communication
design, visual communication, as well as close studies
of contemporary mediations of fashion (Skjulstad 2018,
2017a 2017b, Skjulstad & Morrison 2016). Not trained
as jewellers, issues and questions relating to mediation
of design within a contemporary mediational context
has provided important background for the project. This
also extends to teaching communication design and
fashion media in a university college setting. For
example, in a publication in press (Skjulstad 2019 in
press), Victor Schklovsky’s (2017) concept of
defamiliarization serves as a heuristic for unpacking
how visual aesthetics often associated with matters of
ocean pollution may be replaced by visual references
from the field of fashion. One of the aims of the project
is to evoke interest in the issue of ocean plastic pollution
through addressing it via visual articulations that differ
from expected ones. Setting a different aesthetic in
motion, the audience is invited to look very closely at
each piece of plastic.
When making jewellery, we typically spread a large
number of plastic pieces out on a flat surface on the
floor in our living room. For the moment we focus
mostly on earrings, but we are also working on
pendants, rings, and brooches.
Figure 5. Earrings in the making, spread out on a flat surface
for review.
As part of beach cleaning, we typically bring three bags.
One for pieces we keep, one for pieces we recycle and
one for other items. Pieces are selected by informal
criteria, but if the size, shape and texture trigger
something in us, we keep it. The pieces go through
various preliminary rounds of sorting and cleaning.
Often, pieces of similar colours are gathered and spread
out close to each other so as enable us to get an
overview. Pieces we find particularly interesting
because of its shape, colour, or texture is taken slightly
aside. Pieces we particularly like are placed on one end
of the surface, and typically they are matched with
pieces we believe might enter an aesthetic
‘conversation’ with another one. Sometimes we find
givenpairs, that is two pieces that are similar to one
another (see fig. 10). Because our studio spaceis our
living room floor, we equip ourselves with headlamps to
see the nuances, cracks and textures better. Earring pairs
in the making are placed on a different surface and is
often left for review for a couple of days (fig. 5). We
design custom fittings, and a local goldsmith produces
them for us. We use a cordless drill, and the only
alterations of the plastic pieces we ‘allow’ is to drill tiny
holes for assembling them with silver or gold. For this,
we use a set of pliers.
We collect most of the plastic pieces, as part of beach
cleaning trips, where the plastic we bring back and keep
is only a tiny fraction of the waste we recycle or discard.
Other pieces are sourced from the NGO Nordic Ocean
Watch (NOW), who promote beach cleaning as a
collective activity for raising awareness of ocean plastic
pollution, and for advocating the idea of caring for the
ocean collectively. The organisation was founded by a
group of surfers who for years have been cleaning the
spectacular beach in Hoddevik, in the north-western part
of the country, from which they surf. This informal
surfer’s collective has since then grown into a multi-
level NGO who collaborates with a range of policy
actors working towards ocean clean-up and plastic
management. We have recently begun a collaboration
with NOW. In this collaboration, we draw on the
material outcomes of the infrastructure for plastic
sorting and depositing they have installed in Hoddevik.
Figure 6. Earrings designed from selected pieces from a
plastic brought by NOW from Hoddevik to Oslo. Fitted with
custom sterling silver and presented in a jewellery box.
No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 5
This is a facility for archiving the plastic debris they
collect from this beach. Through this collaboration we
have gained access to some of the plastic pieces
collected there, and have designed a series of earrings
from Hoddevik plastic debris (Figure 3 & 6). Through
this collaboration, we position our jewellery as part of a
collective endeavour in reframing this material as a
resource astray. Drawing on Lash & Lury’s (2007)
analysis of how objects may have mediational capacity,
the jewellery is used by members of this organization as
tangible examples of how marine waste may be
regarded as a resource that may be looped back into the
value chain. In such, they become discursive objects.
As mentioned in the section on methods, the jewellery
project oscillates between design exploration (e.g.
Fallman 2008), humanist design research inquiry, and a
bricolage-like explorative design practice. However, the
project also has a strong element of craft. Lees-Maffei
and Sandino (2004, p 209) discusses the relationship
between the concepts of design, art and crafts. They
point to how the historical distinctions- and
contemporary blurring between them may stir up heated
debate in all camps. However, they address the need to
reach across traditional demarcations for acknowledging
how the ‘…collaborative, interdisciplinary diversity of
current practice produces hybrid artefacts that render
discussions of the interplay between design, craft and
art essential’. The jewellery project is situated
somewhere in between these domains. Each piece of
jewellery is unique and made by hand. However, the
design process is a trajectory shaped as an open
dialogue with a material that initially was novel to us.
This process bleeds into other processes of
communication design, where the jewellery is
photographed on models and mediated via different
media platforms, also journalistic ones, spanning from
Instagram to academic papers such as the paper at hand.
The design process thus exceeds giving material form to
pieces of jewellery: It is also design for mediated
Each piece of jewellery is thus ‘a hybrid
object’ in more than one sense. Each pair is made in an
uncontrolled and at times accidental relationship
between industrial design, manufacture and nature. All
the plastic pieces we collect are fragments of designed
objects which were once placed in industrial production
and circulation. However, these objects have been
broken, discarded or lost. But at the end of the day, they
have all transformed from a (dys)functional plastic
object, and via a range of different circumstances ended
up as marine debris washed ashore in Norway. In the
design process, time, water, heat and friction among a
range of other forces, have left marks on each piece of
plastic. Hence, before we have collected the plastic
pieces, each piece has been through a series of processes
that are unknown to us. Some pieces have melted.
Others have been bleached and polished. Each plastic
piece is thus an accidental hybrid object shaped by the
friction between culture and nature.
Figure 7. First step in sorting newly found plastic pieces.
Typically, the pieces are spread out.
Figure 8. A temporary living room ’work bench’. Often, the
plastic pieces are sorted by colour on a flat surface so as to get
an overview of the pieces.
The project is positioned within a multi-perspective
framework that combines notions of discursive design,
drawing on Morrison et al. (2011), Arnall (2013),
Mollon & Gentes (2014), and by Tharp & Tharp (2013,
2019 forthcoming). In the summary of their forthcoming
book on MIT Press, Tharp & Tharp (2019) define
discursive design as targeting the way we think and
“While many consider good design to be unobtrusive,
intuitive, invisible, and undemanding intellectually, discursive
design instead targets the intellect, prompting self-reflection
and igniting the imagination. Discursive design (derived from
“discourse”) expands the boundaries of how we can use
designhow objects are, in effect, good(s) for thinking.
In addition, the project draws on approaches to practice-
based research, where the relations between design
practice, design exploration and design research
interpolate, as for example discussed by Fallman
(2008). The project moves via different trajectories,
loops and dimensions; It oscillates between different
kinds of practices spanning from cleaning plastic
waste from beaches, to photographing and presenting
jewellery on models, to academic writing and teaching.
It also involves presenting the project to students as part
of sustainability initiatives, but also as a means for
generating awareness of the possibility of design
practices that reuse and transform existing, but
discarded material objects that are readily available. The
jewellery project thus opens for a broad spectrum of
design practices and reflective modes. Our investigation
of marine plastic debris as a design material for
jewellery, is also one that inquires into how such a
material and its exploration, might be mediated to a
non-specialist audience in contexts outside of art and
design schools. For example, the jewellery is designed
to be worn as jewellery, but as jewellery with a story
that differs radically from industrially manufactured
ones. In such an approach, one that may be referred to
as a communication design approach (Skjulstad 2008)
all the different elements, such as the Instagram profile,
jewellery boxes, as well as the various contexts in which
the project are presented form part of the discursive
aspect of the project. (Dunne & Raby, 2013, Dunne,
2008). According to the abovementioned authors,
design may stimulate for debate, dialogue, reflection,
and preferably also action. This may open for
engaging in problems of sociological, ethical or
psychological nature also including difficult ones, and
making these issues visible (Tharp & Tharp 2013,
Arnall 2013). Drawing on such design approaches, the
imaginative potential in marine anthropogenic debris as
a material for jewellery design, opens for inviting the
audience to actually engage in a close study of marine
plastic pollution rather than turning away from it. When
included into a piece of jewellery, a tiny piece of waste
becomes something that is generally treated with great
care; These tiny pieces of plastic waste may through this
stimulate reflections on our relationship to this
staggering amount of plastic that pile up in the oceans.
As argued by Auger (2013), a certain level of
provocation is needed for engaging the audience in
design scenarios. However, in the case of marine plastic
pollution, reality is far more uncomfortable than any
speculative design presentation of it. Jewellery as a
platform is interesting, as ocean pollution as a threat
may simply be rejected because it becomes too
uncomfortable to relate to. However, in the form of
jewellery, it is presented in a way that gently invites the
potential audience to reflect on the topic, and relate to it
bodily and as a means for self-expression and critical
fashion practice (Geczy & Karaminas 2017).
Resembling a functional speculation taking place in the
present, repurposed marine plastic debris is treated as a
precious material and presented in the form of fully
functional jewellery. The main mode of address is
aesthetic, as opposed to confronting. Care in this context
may thus be described a mode of address.
As the grim reality of ocean pollution is of
great importance, addressing these matters gently may
potentially stimulate an embodied and aesthetically
imbued form of reflection. Design may provide gentle
nudges towards changing the perception of a
phenomenon (Dunne & Raby 2013). However, this is
made possible not only by the designed objects alone.
As demonstrated by Arnall (2013), visual mediations of
the exploration of a specific material (in his case the
material of RFID technology) can be an incremental
part of the research- and design process. Material
knowledge is shaped via design practice often through a
close dialogue with, and about a material (Schön 1983,
Fallman 2008). In our case, marine plastic debris is the
design material scrutinised via material and mediational
practices. This may lead to new material knowledge, as
put forward by McCosh (2013), as she writes on
embodied and time-based artistic explorations of the
material sublime as a dialogue between her and the
material agency of paint. In the context of jewellery, our
engagement with marine plastic strives for what Dunne
(2005, p. 147) regards as encompassing a …critical
aesthetic experience with everyday life.As jewellery is
carried on the body, the discursive potential is thus an
embodied one (Negrin 2013). Jewellery is a part of
everyday life, and the material fragments of the objects
we surround ourselves with. While many of the origins
of many of the pieces we use in our jewelelry are
unknown to us, pieces with reference to construction
sites, hunting, boats and fishing frequently appear.
Some pieces, such as the lower ones in figure 11 are
melted into shapes that are hard to relate to specific
objects or domains.
No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 7
Figure 9. These earrings are made from two pieces of plastic
that initially were parts of construction material from the
producer Thorsman. We believe these plastic objects have
been the middle element of a set of expander bolts that have
been torn off and used. Such pieces appear on shores in
several different colours. These pieces were found in the Oslo
Fiord area. They are assembled with custom sterling silver
Figure10. Earrings made from melted plastic pieces from
Hoddevik. The pieces were initially collected by Nordic
Ocean Watch.
Figure 11.Earrings made from multiple pieces of unknown
origin, collected in the Oslo Fiord area.
As marine pollution is a pressing problem of today,
these issues are discussed across different research
contexts and disciplines. Drawing on Latour, and
perspectives from Science and Technology Studies
(STS) studies, Liboiron (2016) discusses marine plastic
pollution in a material perspective. He regards marine
debris as objects with agency. However, marine plastic
pollution is in need of more nuanced conceptual work,
as the complexity of how marine debris relates
scientifically to matters of harm depends on how
different knowledge communities understands this.
Combining natural and social science-perspectives,
Liboiron (2016, p. 90) discusses how various
knowledge communities …make emerging amorphous
forms of harm not only discernible but articulate enough
for action’. For policy that may reduce ocean plastic
pollution, nuancing the ways such plastic is understood
at a complex chemical micro-level is challenging. How
we conceptualise marine plastic pollution as a
phenomenon- a diverse collection of fragments from a
great variety of petro-chemical substances that may
differ chemically from each other matter. Different
kinds of plastics may cause different types of harm.
How harm is understood also differ significantly within
knowledge communities. According to Liboiron (2016)
greater nuance is in other words important for the kinds
of actions and policies needed to better understand of
how this growing Leviathan might be productively
tackled. Such an approach to matter and meaning
situates this material(s) within struggles relating to
power and meaning. ‘Dead’ objects, such as small
pieces of marine plastic debris may thus be understood
as matter with agency.
Zooming out drastically, each piece of marine
plastic potentially enables a conceptual move from
micro to macro level in reflections on the history and
prospective evolution of the planet. It is easy to envision
a seagull with its belly filled with plastic debris.
Unfortunately, we have grim images of molested turtles
and birds on our retinas. However, the immense number
of man-made objects and constructions, the left overs of
the era of plastic in industrial design and manufacture,
connects the tangible material of plastics to debates
about slow processes in deep time. Such macro
perspectives are important in relating these small, and
overlooked plastic fragments in relation to the proposed
onset of the ‘Anthropocene’, what Liboiron (2016, p.
90) refers to as:
…a proposed epoch characterized by human activities
impacting atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and
other earth systems, where industrial materials with
unprecedented tonnage, toxicity, and heterogeneity are having
unintended consequences [that already] threaten to disrupt all
orderings, all plans, all impacts’, on a planetary scale, from
ocean acidification to the survival of the human species.’
According to Liboiron (2016), a material approach to
plastic pollution is important because the properties of
plastics guides what kind of political solutions can be
derived from research on marine plastic pollution. As
there are multiple types of plastic in use, the material
quality of the pieces we collect differ significantly.
Some pieces are soft, while others are brittle. We
therefore test the strength of every piece for brakeage
manually before choosing it for use. When designing
jewellery from this material, one of our discoveries is
the recurring presence of certain objects among the
plastic pieces we collect. An aesthetic approach to this
material is thus one among many that may shed a
slightly different light on these issues.
The mediation of the project follows the activity and
pace of the work. The project is framed as an informal
approach to co-design-related dissemination practices.
This is informal in the sense that people who in various
ways become involved in the project can contribute with
their time, efforts, and competencies as part of a
collaborative practice. However, jewellery as a
communication platform is also explored via a range of
mediations so as to reach a diverse audience outside of
academia (fig 12 & 13). This aspect of the project
includes for example the use of social media platforms
such as Instagram
, and Facebook. The exploration of
the discursive outcomes of mediations of the project
also involves presentations in fashion- and life style
magazines (fig 12 & 13). Drawing on Arnall (2013), a
significant part of the design process has to do with
mediational material. In presenting marine plastic debris
as jewellery, and by treating selected pieces of marine
debris as precious material, the ontology of the plastic
See Instagram (@seablingsta)
piece is affected. It is not only treated as a precious
material, but it becomes so.
Figure 12. Images from an article about the jewellery project
published online in
Figure 13. The jewellery as featured as part of the fashion blog
The jewellery is designed with agency in mind.
Either they are worn, or as conversation pieces, they
appear in real life retail settings. For example, displayed
in the Museum shop at a Maritime Museum, they
calmly invite visitors to the shop to enter a conversation
about ocean plastic pollution. They silently contribute to
the inscription of ocean plastic pollution into the
No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 9
national maritime history. They are invitational, as the
jewellery readily awaits, but does not force dialogue
with shop visitors. Once the jewellery is situated in ´real
world´ settings, such as shops, these contexts may add
an extra layer to enabling the jewellery to be perceived
as real jewellery. The jewellery was for a while
available in a vintage fashion boutique. Such a context
adds the notion of the existence of vintage plastic in
contrast to virgin plastic (that is newly produced
plastic). The context and display thus contributes
conceptually to disseminate the idea of marine plastic
debris as a resource astray to non-specialist audiences.
Drawing on Mary Douglas anthropologic study
of dirt Purity and danger, from 1966 the concept of
dirt as matter out of place is relevant. However, her
views are contested if acting politically upon the
different kinds of harms stemming from the very
complex and different materialities of plastics (Liboiron
2016). However, the material qualities of marine plastic
debris are highlighted and aestheticized (Welsch 1997)
in this project. By making aesthetic what is not, in
imposing aestheticized form on a deeply problematic
material, a certain sense of dissonance is one of the
desired outcomes. Such a dissonance is discussed by
James Auger (2013) with reference to Freud and the
uncanny. The strangely familiar unfamiliar is for
example present in earrings made from fragments of
screw caps. The forms are familiar but removed from its
original contexts on bottles, or as plastic litter on a
beach, they carry the potential for tickling the
imagination of those who encounter it as jewellery. Care
is thus articulated as a slightly provocative, but also
unobtrusive aesthetic invitation to reflect upon on the
different, and at times unexpected cycles of use and
misuse our industrially designed plastic objects go
through. As screw caps often is marked with a brand
logo, these logos are repositioned when visible in a pair
of earrings (fig. 15). The logos ‘talkback, but this time,
the ‘conversation’ is directed towards the idea of these
brand’s responsibility for the harm their products do.
Jewellery is carried on our bodies. Humans has always
embellished themselves by wearing jewellery of
different kinds, also made of materials at hand. Material
for jewellery includes a range of different ones: From
diamonds and precious stones to flowers, seeds and
other natural material. Jewellery is historically part of
human life. Plastic, a material that has been steadily
produced in greater and greater amounts since the 1950s
(Liboiron (2016) is in this project treated as something
we might care for in its afterlife. On an imagined
continuum spanning from precious to worthless on the
other, every piece of jewellery carries the potential to
move our thoughts gently across it. In 2017, the
staggering figures of 348 million tons of plastics were
produced on a global scale (Plastics Europe 2018). The
amount far exceeds what is possible to relate to for most
people. However, presented as a carefully selected
precious piece of plastic, one that is unique, it carries
the potential for thinking about this material differently.
The jewellery is thus designed as a means to prompt
discussion on the massive scale of plastic production,
along with questions about what we perceive as
valuable and why. These carefully selected pieces of
plastic point to a problem that threatens our very
existence as a species and is therefore a difficult one to
embark on in everyday situations.
The plastic pieces we end up using for jewellery are all
unique. The careful selection and presentation of each
plastic piece forms a contrast to the staggering number
of plastic pieces adrift in the ocean. However, from each
tiny piece of plastic, it is possible to point to companies
that produce and disseminate large amounts of objects
that end up as marine waste. This implies a
responsibility many of these industry giants have for
what happens to their products after they are sold.
Figure 14. Plastic debris intrusion at Singløya Østfold,
Norway. The small plastic objects are unintended industrially
produced components in a hybrid landscape where nature and
culture are entangled.
Figure 15. ‘Soft Drink War’. Earrings made from Coca Cola
and Pepsi screw caps, and sterling silver. The screw caps are
collected in Østfold, Norway.
Such a responsibility is at the core of a pair of earrings
made from two screw caps. One has the logo of Coca
Cola, and the other has Pepsi. These earrings point
gently, but directly back at these companies. The race
between these two companies for the position as marked
leader have resulted in a staggering number of bottles
and bottle screw caps in the ocean, and on the shores of
many countries across the world. One result of entering
a close dialogue with marine plastic debris is the
recurring fragments of industrial design objects of
today, such as screw caps, q-tips and shell cases. Care at
a micro level, expressed through selecting, washing, and
assembling two fragments of soft drink screw caps and
assembling them into a pair of earrings is a move to
infuse these fragments with discursive agency, but also
to fold these fragments into the time horizon ahead of
us. The concept of technofossils was originally
introduced by Zalasiewicz et al. (2014). Dibley (2018),
discusses such prospective fossils in the context of
contemporary archaeology; The growing layers of man-
made items are prospective fossil material. In the
context of the onset of the Anthropocene, Dibley
discusses such fossils as a new sedimentary layer of the
earth. According to Dibley, the man-made objects of our
time is what will become the new sedimentary layers,
that is, the prospective fossils in a distant future. This
sedimentary layer may according to Dibley (2018, p.
44) be regarded as a memento mori. Thus, they become
a heuristic for drawing a long line from the industrial
design of branded plastic objects to a world after the
human species and …the era of its doing and undoing.
These pieces will be folded into a readable future,
however one that will take place without us. The
jewellery may thus become, drawing on Dibley (2018,
p.48-49) affective objects, …serving as a reminder of
one’s mortality and the trajectory and material afterlife
of human activity. Such affective objects carry a story
that is yet untold.
Through the jewellery, an exploration of various ways
to articulate care for the ocean is set in motion. Through
aesthetic exploration of the very material that is part of
destroying it, material qualities such as edges from
brakeage, texture, colour and shapes are exposed as
jewellery. In collecting, selecting, washing and
embellishing these fragments, the ontology of the
chosen pieces is affected and altered. They have become
precious. Through this project our own gaze has been
interrupted. What we initially perceived as waste is now
seen differently. Our micro transformation of something
worthless into something we perceive as precious have
implications for design. The jewellery tells a story about
and the interrupted life cycles of mass-produced
everyday plastic objects astray. It tells a tale of how
these objects are crushed into fragments that bleed into
the natural environment. It is about objects that we use
for a short time, objects so mundane that we do not take
notice of them in our brief interactions. They build up
and remain. Plastic is a great material when used
responsibly. But this versatile, cheap and enduring
material has one main characteristic: It stays on. It
endures, even as it is slowly grinded into smaller and
smaller fragments, it degrades extremely slowly.
Figure 16. Earrings made of old screw caps, maybe from the
1960’s. Both pieces were found at Singløya, Østfold.
No 8 (2019): NORDES 2019: WHO CARES?, ISSN 1604-9705. Espoo, Finland. 11
The jewellery thus serve as affective reminders that
what we design today shapes our future. Our hope is
that they may act as unobtrusive reminders of the
mistakes of the past and the present, but also as objects
that carefully remind us that how we use plastics matter.
Figure 17: Ocean surface, Løkkevika, Østfold, Norway.
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Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In "Speculative Everything," Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be -- to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose "what if" questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want). "Speculative Everything" offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more -- about everything -- reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures. © 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.