The toothbrush

The toothbrush sought to further explore how the anthropomorphic, lively and deep time qualities of plastic could be utilised to draw out reflections about the nonhuman longevity of plastic in consumers. It uses creative storytelling as a method and medium to deploy these concepts.   

This experiment builds on the imagined afterlife of plastic introduced in Experiment: Re/Collected. It seeks, however, to explore these themes in ways that do not require the theoretical preludes needed in the previous experiment to come to such conclusions.

It draws on the anthropomorphic storytelling of the podcast Everything is Alive (Chillag, 2018-present) as a precedent. Unlike Everything is Alive (Chillag, 2018-present), however, this story is not told in an interview format with direct dialogue, but through descriptive internal dialogue of the plastic’s own thoughts. 

The toothbrush (Figure 32) was chosen as the protagonist of this story as it was an object that I felt everyone could relate to; we all have a very personal relationship with toothbrushes, yet they are perhaps one of the plastic objects most taken for granted in our lives. We use them twice a day, without thought. The creation of this story required putting myself in the perspective of the toothbrush and imagining its thoughts and feelings while moving through a typical disposal cycle.

Even though I knew that a toothbrush typically ends up in landfill where it then stays forever, writing about it ended up making this understanding much more tangible. It unsettled me to know that all my past toothbrushes have met similar depressing ends. It had the effect of making me not want to subject those experiences to any object or thing anymore. While this approach is entirely fictional and I myself do not believe that plastics have emotions and thoughts, anthropomorphism shifted my perspective to consider the experiences of this toothbrush after disposal and strengthened a recognition of more alternative nonhuman worldviews.

While I enjoyed using fiction to open up my way of seeing, I did find it incredibly difficult to formulate a complete, logical and working story about the toothbrush (due to the fact that I do not necessarily see myself as a writer). This also shed some insight into my own practice, and how I prefer to construct unresolved and fragmented stories to allow for a more interpretive reading rather than a literal one.

I was also wary of continuing further with this approach as the use of such blatant anthropomorphism was perhaps too gimmicky; would adult consumers be able to fully embrace what is often considered a childish way of thinking, or would they immediately dismiss my work?

I realised that it was the act of writing that facilitated my concern for the longevity of plastics. It was generating these anthropomorphic stories through nonhuman lenses that shifted my worldviews to recognise the longevity and post-disposal lives of plastic. I once again questioned whether other consumers reading this story would experience the same revelations. Instead of writing a story for others to read, could an outcome be created that encouraged consumers to formulate their own personal understandings? Ways of anthropomorphising the plastic without overt human comparisons also needed to be experimented further.