Reading Stones

In Spring of 2019 when the San Francisco Center for the Book announced a call for submissions for Reclamation: Artists’ Books on the Environment in response to “Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss,” a manifesto issued by Peter Koch in 2018, I began to think about the various forms a sculptural book can take and how my entry could address the reclamation theme of “the process of claiming something back or of reasserting a right.” I am thrilled that Reading Stones made the cut and will be included in the exhibition at SFCB in Summer 2021 and will subsequently be on exhibit June 2021 – September 2021 at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Book object: Reading Stones

13 plastiglomerate stones in a cloth bag

Plastic may be with us for forever, as in these “reading stones” that were found with Richard Lang 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.”

One thought on “Reading Stones

  1. Pingback: Spotlight feature! Judith Selby Lang and Richard Lang – CARe PACKAGE

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