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Plastics | MoMA R&D Salon 32 | MoMA LIVE

In his 1957 collection of essays Mythologies, Roland Barthes likened plastic to ‘the stuff of alchemy… a miracle…,’ with characteristic vehemence. He was writing at a time when synthetic polymers were celebrated as feats of technological progress, harbingers of a splendid world to come, a bottomless resource for all technical and creative needs. Plastics were as malleable as they were transformative, the right materials for an age of mass production and consumption. Widely affordable, they offered a cheap way to package and ship products, connecting global supply chains and serving both industrial and developing communities.
As we now know, plastics are as fragile and temporary as they are relentlessly permanent and almost impossible to dispose of. Sixty years after Barthes' essay, our positions on plastics are much more nuanced. In short, we largely consider them to be an environmental threat of global and epic proportions. As possible solutions––recycling, upcycling, substituting, reducing, metabolizing––come and go and research into bioplastics booms, is there room for plastics in the future? If so, will they resemble anything we know?
Join a nuanced conversation in this MoMA R&D Salon hosted by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of Research & Development at MoMA, with speakers (in alphabetical order):
Christina Agapakis: a biologist, writer, and artist known for her experiments exploring the future of biotechnology. She collaborates with engineers, designers, artists, and social scientists to explore the many unexpected connections between microbiology, technology, art, and popular culture. She is currently creative director at Ginkgo Bioworks, an organism design company that is bringing biology to industrial engineering.
Gregg Buchbinder: is CEO of Emeco, a design furniture brand. Under Gregg’s leadership, Emeco has collaborated with the world’s best designers and architects, including Philippe Starck, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Ettore Sottsass, Jean Nouvel, Nendo and Jasper Morrison. Sustainability is at Emeco's core, working with reclaimed wood polypropylene, natural wood (previously used or responsibly sourced), eco-concrete and cork. In 2010 Emeco collaborated with Coca-Cola on the 111 Navy Chair made of recycled plastic bottles.
Mark Chambers: Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, New York City. He previously served as the Director of Sustainability and Energy for the Government of the District of Columbia. An urbanist and licensed architect, Chambers has dedicated his career to working on high performance design, zero waste policy and City scale building energy efficiency, with a focus on equitable economic growth, public engagement and promoting transparency through data and innovation.
Roger Griffith: Associate Sculpture Conservator at The Museum of Modern Art since 1998. Prior to MoMA he was an inter/fellow at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991-93); The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1997) and the University of East Anglia: Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich England (1996). He has worked on many exhibitions during his tenure at MoMA and published and lectured internationally on various topics of conservation.
Marina Zurkow: A media artist focused on near-impossible nature and culture intersections, researching “wicked problems” like invasive species, superfund sites, and petroleum interdependence. She has used life science, bio materials, animation, dinners and software technologies to foster intimate connections between people and non-human agents. Her work spans gallery installations and unconventional public participatory projects.
The presentations are accompanied by a series of 1-minute videos cut specifically for Salon 32.
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The comments and opinions expressed in this video are those of the speakers alone, and do not represent the views of The Museum of Modern Art, its personnel, or any artist.
Image: Duplicate images of Kelly Jazvac, Plastiglomerates, 2013; Photo credit: Jeff Elstone
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