In the geological epoch of the 21st century now known as ‘Anthropocene’, in which human activity has dramatically shifted the earth’s geo-biospheric systems, the explosive growth of plastic waste materials poses a pressing global crisis. Despite our wish to manage, control, and ultimately distance ourselves from plastic materials through recycling practices, this problem continues to escalate. Though the familiar ‘three Rs’ approach (reduce, reuse and recycle), attracts high levels of attention and compliance, it is ineffective because it takes waste ‘out of sight and out of mind’ and perpetuates consumerism. Recycling behaviours create an appeasing notion of individual morality and ‘good citizenship’, while veiling capitalist systems that create the accumulative logics that now fuel human life.

Attuning to the symbolic life of plastics across childhoods in Cuenca, Ecuador, this exhibition illuminates a pedagogical attention to plastic as a material manifestation of neoliberal subjectivity. In early childhood education, plastic materials speak not only to a human desire for efficiency, but also make visible capitalist rationalities that inadvertently haunt pedagogical work. For example, pedagogical decision making is often informed by theories of children’s development – progress-driven narratives which echo the individualist storylines of consumptive market economies.

Yet despite its toxicity, living with/in the Anthropocene requires a reconceptualization of educational experiences that pay closer attention to how plastics hold interdeterminate relations with surrounding ecologies. Forming roots that hold together river banks, composing the nests of colibris and framing lattices for new forest saplings – plastics’ adaptivity makes it impossible to throw away, and calls for new ethical engagements.

Tracing the discourses attached to plastic materials at Nivel Inicial, this exhibition proposes that these all-too-familiar materials are not merely empty vessels for children’s amusement or learning. Rather, they tell stories of human dependencies on progress, production and accumulation. Responding to these dependencies and configuring pedagogies within the aesthetics of increasingly synthetic worlds requires new ways of knowing plastic. Highlighting the vibrant agencies of plastics before-during-and after human use, this exhibit aims to notice the intimacy of our relations and co-formations with/in plastic ecologies, keeping plastics ‘in sight and in mind’.

El Centro Interamericano de Artesanías y Arte Popular (CIDAP) – Cuenca, Ecuador

May 9th – May 20th, 2019


Plastic childhoods traces the emergence of a pedagogical project that considers what might happen if researchers, educators, and children think with plastic to reconfigure childhoods in ways which can respond to times of ecological devastation. This exhibition is reflective of a pedagogical commitment to rethinking humans’ relations with waste materials, and honors the reconceptualist engagements by educators, children and families at Nivel Inicial, Santana.

Installations from ‘Plastic Childhoods’ have been featured in Making-Time, a digital exhibit at the inSEA World Congress in Vancouver, BC (2019) and Disorientating the early childhood sensorium: Micro-interruptions for alternative climate futures, a research-creation exhibit with the Responding to ecological challenges with/in contemporary childhoods colloquium at the Children’s Museum in London, ONT (2020).


We are deeply grateful to the children, families and community of Santana for their participation in this project.

Curator + Pedagogical Coordinator: Alex Berry

Atelierista: Valeria León

Audio: Samantha Izquierdo

Photography by: Alex Berry, Sylvia Kind, Valeria León, Samantha Izquierdo

Translators: Estefania Cruselles, Samantha Izquierdo, Diana Chacón, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla

Researchers: Alex Berry, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw

Participating Educators: Andrea Patiño, Diana Chacón, Estefania Crusellas, María Eliza Castro, Carolina Arévalo, María Susana Marchán, María Cecilia Cañizares, Karina Fernández, Carolina Marchán, Andrea Pinos, Ximena Borrero, Cristina Ochoa, María Paz Valenzuela

The text of this exhibit draws on the work of Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Affrica Taylor, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Alex Berry and the conceptual framework of the Common Worlds Research Network.

This project is generously supported by Santana Unidad Educativa and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).