The Age of Plastic: Ingenuity and Responsibility: Proceedings of the 2012 MCI Symposium
This volume brings together papers presented at “The Age of Plastic: Ingenuity + Responsibility,” a Smithsonian symposium hosted by the Museum Conservation Institute on June 7–8, 2012. The event was conceived as a cross-disciplinary exploration of plastic as technological material, cultural phenomenon, preservation challenge, and force on the environment. Writers, scientists, conservators, historians, filmmakers, designers, and policy makers offer researched and first-hand accounts from life in the Plastic Age. Papers are organized to highlight the importance and complexity of plastic material culture through juxtaposition of countervailing positive and negative viewpoints. The volume features observations on innovation in plastic with past and contemporary examples of furniture design, failed experiments with proteinaceous fibers before World War II, the transition of celluloid from ivory simulant to unique identity, the space program, and bioplastics in automobiles. Studies of the rise of food packaging further explore how plastic shapes and is shaped by our culture. Preservation challenges that new, often unstable plastic poses for the cultural heritage community are explored through case studies of novel conservation treatments, research into new deterioration phenomena, and knowledge transfer. The relationship between plastic and the environment is probed with perspectives on pollution, advantages of plastic to living zoological collections, and recycling. Intended primarily for the cultural heritage community but also relevant to other fields, this volume demonstrates the importance and challenges of documenting the remarkable ongoing evolution of plastic materials that now are integral to the artifact record as markers of achievement and records of the innovation process.