Plastic Gothic: Frankenstein, Art and the Microplastic Monster




Plastic, Pollution, Environment, Art, Frankenstein, Horror, Monster, Gothic


The contamination of life with plastic pollution and humanity’s lethargic response to the problem is an unfolding terror: a story of Gothic horror unfolding in contemporary times. The power of Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein looms over the current terror of plastic pollution to encourage changes to the materials we create, use and discard. In Frankenstein, a monster was spawned in a process that desecrates the act of creating new life. Similarly, in my work of art Microplastics Found in Human Embryo, the depiction of an embryo is desecrated by plastic contamination. Frankenstein was unable to control his monster, and, denied empathy and love, the monster killed Frankenstein’s loved ones and haunted its creator’s soul. As microplastics are largely unseen, and increasing exponentially, they are becoming a modern monster. Microplastics can cross the placenta and the blood brain barrier, endangering the life and health of our children, potentially robbing us of progeny, and the future of humankind. Over the past two hundred years, Frankenstein has functioned as a shadowy mnemonic tale, haunting scientists and technologists by reminding them to consider the impacts of their creations. Shelley’s message, if applied to the current dangers of the “Age of Plastic”, might help us to clean up plastic pollution and embrace sustainable materials. In this spirit, Microplastics Found in Human Embryo reveals a monstrous idea, which aims to help awaken us from complacency and convince humanity to form a relationship which sustains all forms of life on Earth.

Author Biography

Robyn Glade-Wright, James Cook University

Associate Professor Robyn Glade-Wright is a practicing artist and arts educator who has presented over forty solo exhibitions in public and private galleries. Glade-Wright’s research interests include aesthetics, ethics, environmental art and practice-led research. Her works of art call attention to the role humans have played in climate change, environmental pollution and species loss. Beauty is used subversively in many of her creative works. Lurking behind the beautiful form lies a haunting message, goading us into reflection and action to preserve the diversity of the natural environment and the life forms that are dependent on these environments.


Armstrong, J. (2004). The Secret Power of Beauty. London, UK: Allen Lane.

Baker, I. (2018). Fifty Materials That Make the World. New York, NY: Springer.

Baekeland, L. (1915). Applied Chemistry. Science, 42 (1086), 548. DOI: 10.1126/science.42.1086.547

Battisti, C., Staffieri, E., Poeta, G., Sorace, A., Luiselli, L., & Amori, G. (2019). Interactions between anthropogenic litter and birds: A global review with a ‘black-list’ of species. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 138, 93-114.

Besseling, E., Foekema, E. M., Van Franeker, J.A., Leopold, M. F., Kuhn, S., Rebolledo, E. L., Hebe, E., Mielke, L., Ijzer, J., Kamminga, P., & Koelmans, A. A. (2015). Microplastic in a macro filter feeder: Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 95 (1), 248-252.

Carroll, N. (1987). The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46 (1), 51-59. Retrieved from

Creed, B. (2011). Tropical Malady: Film & the Question of the Uncanny Human-Animal. eTropic 10, 131-140.

Cohen, J. (2018). How a Horror Story Haunts Science. Science, 359 (6372), 148-150. doi: 10.1126/science.359.6372.148

Corner, A., Parkhill, K., Pidgeon, N., & Vaughan, N. E. (2013). Messing with nature? Exploring public perceptions of geoengineering in the UK. Global Environmental Change, 23 (5), 938-947. doi: org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.06.002

Diaz, M. (2018). Plastic: Breaking down the Unbreakable, Coastal, 85 (19), 85-113. Retrieved from

Galafassi, D., Kagan, S., Milkoreit, M., Heras, M., Bilodeau, C., Juarez-Bourke, S., Merrie, A., Guerrero, L., Pétursdóttir, G. & Tàbara, J. D. (2018). Raising the temperature: the arts on a warming planet. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31, 71-79.

Gibson, R. (2010). The known world. TEXT Special Issue, 8, 1-11. Retrieved from

Glade-Wright, R., (2016) Tidelines: Creative Vision, Ecology and the Tropics, eTropic, 15 (1), 15-25.

Glade-Wright, R., (2018) Microplastics Found in Human Embryo. Artwork display at AAS2018 ‘Life in an Age of Death’ Australian Anthropological Society Annual Conference. James Cook University College of Arts, Society and Education, The Cairns Institute, Australia 4-7 December 2018.

Graham, G. (2005). Philosophy of the arts: An introduction to aesthetics. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hammer, J., Kraak, M. H. S., & Parsons, J. R. (2012). Plastics in the Marine Environment: The Dark Side of a Modern Gift. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 220, 1-44.

Hulme, M. (2015). Climate and its changes: a cultural appraisal. Geography and Environment, 2 (1), 1-11.

Jacobson, S. K., Seavey, J. R., & Mueller, R. C. (2016). Integrated science and art education for creative climate change communication. Ecology and Society, 21 (3), 30.

Kindsvater, H., Dulvy, N., Horswill, C., Juan-Jorda. M., Mangel, M., & Matthiopoulos, J. (2018). Overcoming the Data Crisis in Biodiversity Conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 33 (9), 676-688.

Klar, M., Gunnarsson, D., Prevodnik, A., Hedfors, C., & Dahl, U. (2014).

Everything you (don’t) want to know about plastics, Dhaka City Corporation, Dhaka. Retrieved from

Lebreton, L., Slat, B., Ferrari, F., Sainte-Rose, B., Aitken, J., Marthouse, R., Hajbane, S., Cunsolo, S., Schwarz, A., Levivier, A., Noble, K., Debeljak, P., Maral, H., Schoeneich-Argent, R., Brambini, R., & Reisser, J. (2018). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic. Scientific Reports, 8, (4666).

Liebezeit, G., & Liebezeit, E. (2014). Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beers, Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 31 (9), 1574-1578.

Lockie, S. (2018). Opening introductory address. AAS2018 ‘Life in an Age of Death’ Australian Anthropological Society Annual Conference. James Cook University College of Arts, Society and Education, The Cairns Institute, Australia 4-7 December.

Mendenhall, E. (2018). Oceans of plastic: A research agenda to propel policy development. Marine Policy, 96, 291-298.

Mishra, V. (1994). The Gothic Sublime. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Morgan, J. (1998). Toward an Organic Theory of the Gothic: Conceptualizing Horror. The Journal of Popular Culture, 32, 59-80.

Moser, S. C. (2016). Reflections on climate change communication research and practice in the second decade of the 21st century: what more is there to say? WIREs Climate Change, 7 (3), 345-369.

Nace, T. (2017). We're Now at a Million Plastic Bottles Per Minute - 91% Of Which Are Not Recycled. Retrieved from

Ohlendorf, H.M., Risebrough, R.W., & Vermeer, K. (1978). Exposure of marine birds to environmental pollutants - Retrieved from

Rees-Cheney, T. (2005). Getting the Words Right: 39 ways to improve your writing. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.

Reiss, J. (2019) (Ed.). Art theory and Practice in the Anthropocene. Retrieved from

Rojas, J. (2018). Plastic Waste is Exponentially Filling our Oceans, but where are the Robots? Computer Science. Retrieved from

Seltenrich, N. (2015). New link in the food chain? Marine plastic pollution and seafood safety. Environmental health perspectives, 123 (2), 34-41.

Shelley, M. W. (1818). Frankenstein: Florianópolis: UFSC, 2016. Gothic Digital Series. Retrieved from

Tsekos, A., & Petsiou, C. A. (2018). Environment and Philosophy: The Aesthetics and the Natural Environment. Scientific Research, 4 (2), 13-21. Retrieved from

Tyree, C., & Morrison, D. (2017). Invisible-the Particles inside Us. Orb Media. Retrieved from

Van Cauwenberghe, L., & Janssen, C. (2014). Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environmental Pollution, 193, 65-70.

Waring, R. H., Harris, R. M., & Mitchell, S. C. (2018). Plastic contamination of the food chain: A threat to human health? Maturitas, 115, 64-68.

Wilcox, C., Van Sebille, E., & Hardesty, B. D. (2015). Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (38), 11899-11904. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1502108112.




How to Cite

Glade-Wright, R. (2019). Plastic Gothic: Frankenstein, Art and the Microplastic Monster. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 18(2).