2021 Best in Three-Dimensional Art – Jacob Dean

The Invisible Contaminant

Medium: Sculpture

The invisible contaminant is a sculpture piece that is meant to call attention to a public health issue that very people are even aware of; the presence of microplastic particles in our water supply. Plastic is used everywhere in our lives today because of its accessibility and low cost. Various forms of plastics make up items like packaging, our cars, our toys and products, and especially our clothes, but unbeknownst to many, over time plastic will erode, break off, and fray into tiny particles that are invisible to the human eye. A microplastic is typically defined as a piece of plastic that is anywhere between 1 and 500 micrometers (10-6 m), and due to their small size can be easily ingested into the human body, whether that’s through our water supply or through inhalation. Both routes pose potential health risks, prompting cutting edge research at Universities and Labs just in the last few years to determine how significant these risks can be. But in the meantime, scarily high concentrations of particles are being found in drinking water sources across the country, and little to no efforts of filtering out these particles are being taken. The piece is meant to be an alarm, depicting the human skull, a symbol of death, entirely composed out of plastic, taking a big swig. The real scientific analysis behind this project can be found in the green cubes shown hanging above the skull, as they depict rough estimates of the volume of plastic you may ingest over various lengths of time just from drinking the recommended amount of water. These calculations were done taking reported microplastic concentration data from public places and using recommended quantities of water an average person should drink to find how much plastic is drunk over 1 year, 10 years, and 30 years (approximately 36 mm3, 360 mm3, and 1080 mm3 of plastic respectively). In order to make these approximations, I conducted research on microplastic concentration in drinking water, microplastic sizes and shapes, and also looked reports of microplastic ingestion causing bodily harm. The sculpture is composed entirely out of plastic pieces I found in my own personal garbage and recycling, and assembled using hot glue. I appreciate your consideration of my work, and I hope that this information is informative not only about my piece, but the larger issue we face.