Plastic / Artificial

On a balmy December night, I was walking through midtown Manhattan, head bowed against the wind as I rushed to the subway. Outside the 59th street station, I paused for a moment facing the bright lights of a Zara superstore, struck by the bodies on display. Really, they were just mannequins; but, for the first time, this very normal city-sight gave me pause. What is hidden in these illusions of personhood, these forms that mimic the movement of real bodies, posed and positioned just so, that makes us want what they have? The mannequin, in its plastic manifestation, embodies everything that society tells us we should want — the perfect physique, the smooth skin, the trendy clothing. Simultaneously, it is warning us about all the things we may become: Plastic. Hardened. Artificial.

As I stared at the display I began to feel twinges of pity for the mannequin. I guess what I was actually feeling was a sense of pity for myself, and all the other bodies trapped within the likeness of this plastic figure. What would the mannequin tell us about our lives if they could talk? The ones lived under the bright lights of big cities, played against the soundtrack of crashing trucks and rumbling trains, rushing blindly from station to office, from appointment to appointment, a Starbucks iced coffee in hand, checking our watches as we plan every minute of our hurried days. Lives defined by our relationships to social media, to brands, to social norms, to narratives and expectations and unquestioned ideals. It was then that the obvious dawned on me: We are all plastic, our lives are steeped in artificiality, and there is nothing we can do about it. 

The real question is, should we? 

We started thinking about Plastic / Artificial long before this magazine came into fruition. As a collective, we grappled with the concepts on both literal and figurative terms, exploring the pervasive existence of plastic in our physical lives, as well as the ways we “become” artificial in more metaphorical ways. Our first realisation was an obvious one: Plastic is in everything. It wraps the fresh fruit and vegetables in the market, it’s present in the fibers woven through the clothes we choose to wear, it’s on our painted nails, and in the containers we store excess food in. In more symbolic ways, we use plastic as a means to address our insecurities about beauty and attraction, relationships, and even ourselves. It’s present in our fake smiles and our internet selves. It permeates our bodies when sitting through 40-hour work weeks, living values we’ve been handed but never fully questioned.

Our second, and potentially more meaningful realisation, was that plastic is almost always seen as something bad, whilst we tend to assign superior value to things we consider to be authentic, genuine, organic, and natural. What’s more, we rarely ever pause to ask ourselves why it is that we favour one over the other. This inspired us to start actively pursuing that line of questioning. That is, why is it that we so firmly hold these beliefs about plastic, and how we might have come to arrive at them.

We began our journey by looking to discover what it would mean to regard both “plastic” and “artificial” as concepts free from their assigned value. This felt especially important because our social systems are often predicated upon dichotomies which form the basis of how we understand ourselves, the world, cultures, and relationships (to name only a few). These dichotomies are as familiar to us as thought itself: Male vs. Female, Straight vs. Gay, Truth vs. Fiction, Hero vs. Villain. Handsome vs. Ugly. And, underpinning each of these dyads, is the play of opposites, the notion that one entity is inherently “good” whilst the other is inherently “bad”.

The binaries of Real vs. Artificial, Natural vs. Plastic follow the same pattern of thought. Take Industrial Plastic as an example. In common understanding, especially as our ecological climate deteriorates, and societies become more digital, we cast “plastic” as the villain in our narratives — plastic destroys, it pollutes, it is cheap, it is rigid, it is fake. However, despite its rigidity, plastic is also one of the most versatile substances we have available to us, providing ease, convenience and access. For example, the advent of plastic reduced the need for scarce natural resources such as bone, ivory, wood and horn. Using plastic instead of natural materials has made many physical innovations more durable, strong and affordable to more than just the very wealthy. What we are trying to demonstrate is that every narrative is complex and multifaceted, even ones which at first seem to have obvious answers. And whilst in this example we are discussing plastic as a literal, physical object, this same understanding can be extended to the way we view ourselves, and how we apply the concepts of “plastic” and “artificial” in our internal lives. Our aim in this work is to dissect these constructions and approach them without any sort of preconceived answer. 

This brings us to the current issue of the Eternal Remedy magazine, the second installment of our series, Plastic / Artificial, a journey through the way these ideas may be interpreted and (mis)understood. At Eternal Remedy we see curiosity and critical examination as key values of our work, and we believe that these modes of thought can help us to orient our bodies in the world. In other words, understanding who we are and how we got there can provide a powerful blueprint for how to move forward in our journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. In our upcoming  magazine we invite you, our reader, to move beyond ideas of what is wrong and what is right, and what is good and what is bad, in order to approach these tensions with an open mind and a spirit of curiosity.

Meander with us, and with our writers, through these exhibitions of lived experiences, in the hopes that when you exit you will be inspired on your own journey of self-discovery.

Click here to order your copy.

by etre | Featured Image by Shauna Curran

etre

We are a creative hub urging you to fall in love with the fullness of who you are, a platform for introspection through all types of artistry. In essence, then, we press towards capturing the shared experience of the human condition with the appropriate blend of charm and raw honesty, offering ourselves and our subscribers a new way to conceive of and appreciate the richness of life, including even its tragedies.