Coming from the State of Indiana, the move to California implied that I would become acquainted with a new, different enclave of laws, regulations and ideologies. Such phenomena are apparent in my everyday life, such as the Proposition 65 signs that live in my apartment building, the coffee shops I enjoy, and most other places. The typical Prop 65 sign states something similar to the following, “Warning: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm”.
Proposition 65 was enacted in November of 1986, as the voters approved a ballot initiative that addressed concerns about exposures to toxic chemicals (Watts Water Technologies). Proposition 65 now includes a list of almost 900 chemicals that have been found to contribute to cancer, birth defects, and/or reproductive harm. A list of such chemicals can be found here : https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list . The website also allows individuals to search products, specific chemicals, and locations that are associated with Proposition 65. I think that the information and warnings provided by Prop 65 are a helpful step towards the eventual elimination of toxic products in the market. Whenever I buy a coffee and see a Prop 65 sign posted nearby, I often wonder how it is legal, ethical, and at all okay for businesses to sell products with such toxic risks.
Furthermore, there is a gendered component to the ways in which such chemicals interact with individuals and their surroundings. For example, many chemicals cause either male or female reproductive harm, but not always both. Also, women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant are at an increased risk of experiencing the adverse affects of chemicals; many chemicals possess toxic implications for developing babies, and mothers must be extra careful not only for their own health but for the health of their expected child.
The Proposition 65 list of almost 900 chemicals exemplifies just how disconnected we now are from the environments which surround us. Maru Garcia, who guest lectured and facilitated indigo-dying during class, recently held her exhibit: Vivarium. I was lucky enough to participate in her exhibit, as I laid inside of the vivarium both Tuesday and Wednesday night of last week.
I spent about two hours total inside the vivarium; the performances lasted about thirty minutes each, and there were a total of four performances over the two-day span. I did not feel claustrophobic, which is a concern many people have when they first see the vivarium. Also, I was able to breathe, but it did get a little stuffy at times. I was not able to move my body almost at all – so it was important that I stayed relaxed and still.
It was quite interesting to witness the reactions of the visitors. Some individuals were careful not to walk into my line of eyesight, as I could not move and mostly focused my attention onto one part of the room. However, a couple visitors were not shy to walk up directly to the glass. One gentleman went as far as to place his palm on top of the glass; I returned the gesture by placing my hand on “top” of his through the glass. While inside the dome, it felt as if there was a disconnect between me and the people outside the vivarium. To me, I take this feeling as a metaphor to the ways in which humans interact with the planet: humans often see themselves as “separate” from the environment, even though the separation is often misleading and problematic for the relationship between the two parties.