William Rathje at the University of Arizona founded the sociological discipline of garbology, which Wikipedia defines as follows:
[T]he study of (mostly modern) refuse and trash. As an academic discipline it was pioneered at the University of Arizona and long directed by William Rathje. The project started in 1973, originating from an idea of two students for a class project.It is a major source of information on the nature and changing patterns in modern refuse, and thereby, human society.
Or, as a New York Times headline on the topic put it: We Are What We Throw Away.
Recently, I’ve come across three examples (which, by the laws of lazy journalism = a trend) of personal studies in garbology.
Mac Premo‘s The Dumpster Project, covered here before, documents all the things the artist had stockpiled in his old studio before losing that space. Premo is now cataloging the items, some intensely personal (an early pair of his daughter’s shoes, the invitation to an old girlfriend’s party to christen her wheelchair), some just neat things he collected over the years (Persian smokes pictured here). Premo hopes to procure a dumpster and display all the documented stuff in said dumpster. The piece will either tour as an art exhibit or be left out for collection. Or both.
Writer Chappell Ellison is throwing away her stuff in an effort to live with less. Unconsumption covered her project, which consists of a blog where she posts photos of things she is throwing away, sometimes alongside their stories. The first person to comment on each item gets to keep it.
Writer Porochista Khakpour is selling relics of her past and each piece comes with a story on a tumblelog called One Woman’s Trash. “Trying to be people I was not was a theme of my 20s,” begins a post about a silk romper. The microblog is a for-profit venture presented as more stoop sale than art project, but it’s a creative exercise in garbology nonetheless.
I once threw away all my journals. It was a rash decision I frequently question today. Somehow reading entries on these three sites picks at that scab. What I love about all of these efforts is the thought put into our collecting of things, the stories each item acquires — making it harder and harder to part with over time — and the discipline of each artist to actually get rid of it.