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.