Sunday, July 18, 2021

Reading Stones

Book object: Reading Stones

13 plastiglomerate stones in a cloth bag

Plastic may be with us for forever, as in these “reading stones” that we found on Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Stones like these are washing ashore onto to beaches everywhere. It is not known how these stones are formed but some scientists believe they are the burnt residue of plastic that was once shipped to Asia for recycling where it was partially incinerated, then accidentally sent adrift.

These stones are evidence of a new geology being formed by melting plastic debris into pyroplastic plastiglomerates. Theses facsimiles of stones are made from polyethylene, polypropylene, along with a smorgasbord of colorants and chemical additives. In these charred remains, as “reading stones” they ask us to decipher our present and future relationship to resource extraction and our dependence on petroleum-based products.

The history of the Earth can be read in the layers of built up sediments. Each stratification offers an insight into a moment in natural history. On the Geological Time Scale, the Anthropocene describes the human impact on the planet, the Age of Oil describes the planetary catastrophe of our petroleum-based consumer culture.

People often do not understand the equation of oil=plastic, but every year thousands of barrels of oil and natural gas are extracted and used to make plastic. That plastic straw in your beverage is extracted fossil hydrocarbons. 

The act of “reading stones” can refer to both the scientific practice of geological investigation and the ritual of lithomancy which seeks to interpret the patterns of stones cast by those wishing to divine the future. Traditionally in lithomancy, 13 similar stones were each assigned a symbol: astrological, planetary or elemental then placed in a bag. In a daily ritual, while pondering a question, 3 stones were drawn at random from the bag. From that group a message was read; a meaning was assigned in an intuitive way.

These “reading stones” serve in both capacities:

As a marker of the enduring impact of plastic on the planet.

As a message for the future. 

Take three stones from the bag. Upon inspection you might recognize the charred remains of a toothbrush or a bottle cap; a tuft of rope or a clump of melted single-use plastic bags.

Place these stones in an arrangement that invites a close reading.

Conjure a question that only the stones can answer:

What is it that is being extracted? Is our future as a species being extracted? Is hope itself being extracted? As the most powerful and destructive entity on planet Earth, what can we do?

The stones sing, “let’s face the music and dance.”

Reclamation: Artists’ Books on the Environment juried by Betty Bright (Independent Curator and Historian), Mark Dimunation (Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress), and Ruth Rogers (Curator of Special Collections at Wellesley College) is in conjuction with the Extraction project. 

Reading Stones will be at the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, Jewett Gallery (lower level), 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, from Saturday, July 3 – Sunday, September 5,  2021, Monday – Sunday 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Doug Woodring | When Spider Webs Unite, They Can Stop a Lion

Thanks to Doug Woodring, Founder and Managing Director of Ocean Recovery Alliance in Hong Kong, and Paul Rose, global explorer and environmentalist in Geneva, the impact of the Hong Kong Net Man lives on through the stories they tell about the interconnectedness of all life and the impact of plastic. 

Their lively banter and heartfelt appreciation for each other is viewable here in their conversation for The Global Biodiversity Festival.  

We are big fans of the upbeat to convey environmental messages and Doug's presentation of the Ethiopian story When Spider Webs Unite, They Can Stop a Lion is just the right amount of peril and positivity.

As we always say in our talks, “It wasn’t bombs and bullets that brought down the Berlin Wall, it was blue jeans and rockn’ roll—style and joie de vivre.” In 2013 for the Ocean Art Walk to commemorate the cessation of trawl fishing in Hong Kong Harbor we created NET MAN , constructed with nets gathered in a buy-back program to benefit out-of-work fishermen. He's celebrating along with his counterpart twin at the Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito—Ghost Net Monster.

Kudos to Doug and Paul for accentuating the positive!!! Sing it Bing...

Friday, May 7, 2021

Power of Color

Wassily Kandinsky proclaimed, “Color provokes a psychic vibration. Color hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body.”

From Faber Birren's early studies on how color affects mood in interior spaces to the calm relaxation we feel when surrounded by color in the deep forest green of a natural setting, we have long known about the power of color to evoke emotional and physical responses.

The healing power of color is in full display at the new Kaiser Permanente building in Berkeley. The eagerly anticpated facility opened on May 5 in the neighborhood friendly location of 10th St off San Pablo. The center will focus on three primary areas of care: adult and family medicine, OBGYN and pediatrics, and will include a mental-health office, pharmacy and injection clinic for those needing regular shots, vaccinations or IV medications.

Just imagine walking through the soft green of this Kaiser corridor punctuated by our Chroma Pink and Chroma Purple. Then, just imagine, taking a closer look, discovering that these prints are photographs of hundreds of pieces of plastic collected from Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Can you feel Kandinsky's expression of color as vibratory spirit?

Are you feeling better already?

With gratitude to Ginny Tominia, Senior Art Consultant at Chandra Cerrito / Art Advisors, in Napa, CA, who curated and facilitated our participation.

Sunday, May 2, 2021 A Day with the Langs, by Anne Veh, Richard Whittaker

It has been almost ten years since this article was first published. The love expressed in this story continues today, growing ever stronger. Onward we go with the work we were enlisted to do on that fateful day of our first date. Much gratitude to Anne Veh, Richard Whitaker, Works and Conversations and Daily Good for keeping our plastic story alive. In 1999, we never imagined that picking up plastic trash would become our life work, but it has. Read the story here: A Day with the Langs, by Anne Veh, Richard Whittaker

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Earth Day goes...

For Earth Day 2021 there was plastic adventure aplenty at the San Anselmo Co-Op Nursery School.

We began our presentation with a few words about Earthrise considered to be the most influential environmental photograph ever. That image was one that got Earth Day started. For the kids, no further prompt, no extra nudge needed, just pile on the plastic and away they go.

Gray goes green...
then Gray goes Paris Red...
Richard AKA Gramping goes...

Gray's Dad Eli, turned out to be the most avid journal-er of Richard's three kids on a 1996 European Extravaganza (Venice, Prague, Hamburg, Paris). Richard had given each a bound journal and Eli completed his with a page of glued-in trash for indexing each location...Paris=red, Venice= blue etc...

Around here we call this a fine example of "Art-Mind" hard at work finding visual mnemonics so to shape experience. "I love our family," says Richard...just wait...

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


Our long and wonderful association with the Center for the Arts & Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley began in 2015 when we were invited to be "artists-in-residence" at the Doug Adams Gallery at the Badé Museum of Biblical Archeology. We chronicled that project in our blog Forever Plastic: Finding Meaning in the Mess. HERE. Over the years we have been invited to contribute to their newsletter, keeping faculty and students up-to-date about our various doings.  

April 20, 2021: we were the Spotlight Feature HERE 


Spring 2021: Our musing on Murmurations — an image that expresses our "look toward the future" on  Turning the Page. 

Update May 18, 2018:
When asked, "Where are they now?"
We answered HERE