animal vegetable mineral

The quick change artistry of plastic is absolute; it can become buckets as well as jewels.

Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957


Throughout their 150 year history there has always been a desire to exploit plastics as substitutes for traditional materials. Alexander Parkes' announcement of his material at the 1862 exhibition stated:

And by the system of ornamentation Patented by Henry Parkes in 1861, the most perfect imitation of Tortoise-shell, Woods, and an endless variety of effects can be produced.

Plastics are unusually versatile materials. As a result they can act as substitutes in different ways for a vast range of other materials. For example, they can imitate the appearance of other materials and fulfil the role of other materials without necessarily resembling them.

Plastics have no intrinsic form or texture, thus they are not materials that can be true to themselves in the sense promulgated by such design leaders as William Morris. This may have contributed to their reputation as deceitful and thus undesirable materials, materials pretending to be something they are not. In fact the substitution of plastics for more traditional materials has many benefits. They tend to be lighter, easier to work, cheaper, and they do not corrode. Their use can also help to preserve endangered wildlife by reducing the need and desire to plunder natural resources.

This exhibition presents a wide range of plastics according to the Linnaean classification of the substituted materials: animal, vegetable and mineral, and explores some of the ensuing benefits.

MoDiP would like to thank the following for donations and the loan of artefacts for this exhibition:

  • Steve Akhurst
  • Tapco Europe Ltd
  • Plastics Historical Society
  • Affresol Ltd
  • Thackray Museum
  • Durakerb® Group
  • Jen Cruse
  • Duxford Aviation Society
  • Martyn Rowlands
  • BP Oil UK Ltd

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