Plastic Frictions interdisciplinary symposium set for April 13

The symposium, Plastic Frictions, will be dedicated to thinking through the aesthetic, political, economic, and philosophic entwinements of plastic. Symposium will be held Monday, April 13 in 22 Deike Building on the University Park campus. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Plastic is a seemingly ubiquitous material and as such is often taken for granted. However plastic is central to the systems that define contemporary society and it could be argued that we have entered the “Age of Plastic.” It is a material that is mundane and awesome, deadly and life enhancing, and what Anna Tsing, UC Santa Cruz professor and author of "Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection," calls a "friction." This friction emerges from plastic’s contradictory nature, at once endlessly pliable and incredibly persistent.

The symposium Plastic Frictions will be dedicated to thinking through the aesthetic, political, economic and philosophic entwinements of plastic. The symposium will be held Monday, April 13, in 22 Deike Building. The event is free and open to the public.

The afternoon session will be held from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. and will include talks by four Penn State professors. A reception will be held from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. and three keynote talks will be held from 6:30 to 8:45 p.m.

Keynote speaker Odile Madden is a research materials scientist at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute and heads its modern materials research program. She leads the Smithsonian’s Age of Plastic program, a collaboration of scientists, curators, conservators, artists and other scholars that explores the phenomenon of solid polymeric materials (aka “plastic”) and their impacts on 19th- to 21st-century life, culture and the environment. Madden will give the talk “Lessons from our Lives with Plastic.”

Keynote speaker Pinar Yoldas is a Turkish cross-disciplinary artist/researcher and a neuroenthusiast. Her research investigates the two-sided dynamics between cultural and biological systems. Based on her varied background in architecture, interface design, computing and neuroscience she seeks to enhance the transformative power of art through the creation of hybrid art forms. Yoldas will give the talk “An Ecosystem of Excess.”

Keynote speaker Dianna Cohen is a visual artist, and the co-founder and CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, the ocean and the environment. Cohen will give the talk “Plastic Pollution Revolution.”

During the afternoon sessions, Brian Black, professor of history and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, will present “A 'Burping Bowl' in Every Cupboard: Tupperware and the Construction of the American Ecology of Oil”; Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, associate professor of English and women’s studies, will present “Where is ‘Away’? Mapping Plastic Pollution”; Tom Lauerman, assistant professor of art, will present “Hacking Plastic: Open-Source 3-D Printing, Experimental Plastics, Art and Access to Tools”; and Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, will present “Bioplastics and Squid Proteins”

The symposium is sponsored by Penn State’s Institute for Arts and Humanities, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Department of Geosciences. For more information about the symposium, visit

Last Updated April 10, 2015