Check out this “Toxic Series” on VBS.TV about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that floating dump in the ocean.
Archive for April, 2008
Yesterday was a “sanitation day” in Benin City, Nigeria. Everyone but medical doctors must stay home between 7-10am or risk major fines. The “holiday” is statewide and observed on different days in other states. People are supposed to clean up their homes and compounds, though many choose to simply sleep in.
I’ll be bouncing around Nigeria over the next couple of weeks and while I know the Internet access in the cities I’ll be visiting is probably good, I’ll be in constant transit and may not be able to post often. Please investigate the sidebar links while I’m gone. I think you’ll find good stuff over there!
Just got a tip from Maxwell about an international gathering of trash pickers hosted by the Bogotá Association of Recyclers (ARB).
“The 18,000-member ARB hosted hundreds of waste pickers from over 40 countries for a four-day conference in early March. Funded by international non-profits, the First World Congress of Waste Pickers was held “to exchange experiences and to create national and international alliances that will protect us from being stepped on by local governments,” said Ospina. The conference demonstrated that although trash recyclers around the world face socio-economic marginalization and harassment from local authorities, recyclers are also becoming increasingly organized and are winning important victories.”
(Photo by Marty Chen for ARB)
As Earth Day approaches, I’m nudged more and more each day by emails from PR agencies to blog about one or another eco-product (a note to publicists: I am happy to receive press releases, but everydaytrash.com is very specifically about garbage so story ideas about the environment in general are best sent to green bloggers). One such nudge came recently from the buzz marketing manager at the New York TImes, aka my sister. She thought you guys might like to see this video (takes a minute to load) about a modern homestead in California where one family has gone beyond recycling to self-sufficiency. The clip goes along with this week’s eco-themed Times magazine. Here are the trash-related blurbs I found interesting, despite a general distaste for the concept of a green issue:
- San Fran’s sanitation department collects compost, which is used by local farmers who in turn cook a local feast for the sanitation workers every year (scroll down to third item);
- Seattle and Boulder have set zero waste goals (third item);
- The disposable v. cloth diaper debate (third item); and
- “Earthships” are solar homes made from recylced products (fourth item).
Image ripped from nytimes.com
A recent report from the Ocean Conservancy shows that volunteers around the world collected 6 million tons of beach debris in a single day. Wired.com has the full report and some downloadable spreadsheets for data geeks.
I found this and other cleverly titled and artfully shot photos of trash here. According to the “about” blurb: ” The Art of Talking Trash is dedicated to showcasing the most progressive and inspiring garbage in NYC and beyond.” Welcome to the garblogosphere, comrad. This photo reminds me of Donna Conlon‘s trash trees in Panama.
You may remember a request to fill out a survey about the waste you created over the course of one day…the results are in and have been morphed into a play called Detritus running next weekend (April 26 and 27 in NYC) under the tagline “inspired by New York City’s trash.
Here’s the brief and intriguing description from the creators…
“Five creatures from the underworld bring back to the surface what you thought you’d disposed of forever. Inspired by New York’s trash, these grotesques and bouffons will keep you laughing, even as the terrifying facts about waste spill into your laps.“
Norway-based, French-raised, Tunisian-born artist Samir M’kadmi is perhaps the only man international and open-minded enough to have curated the trash art show, seminar and catalog “Recycling the Looking Glass“. As you are well aware by now, due to my constant raving since returning, the show opening was a huge success. Despite the demands of a crazy schedule putting on international exhibitions and keeping up with work of his own, Samir kindly agreed to provide everydaytrash readers with a bit more depth on the making of the Oslo show and where trash art falls in the art historical cannon.
everydaytrash: How did the concept for “Recycling the Looking Glass” come about?
M’kadmi : “Recycling the looking-glass” is a result of research and interrogations on topics related to contemporary art, our environment, and global society. Through “Recycling the looking-glass” I tried to re-conceptualise crucial interrogations of globalisation, environmental and cultural issues by resituating these topics not only at an aesthetic level, but also by interrogating and exposing their ethical dimension. These interrogations also occupy a major place in our Norwegian media debates. Of course, these kinds of topics are not specific to Norway. They are global. But, the way these issues are addressed, in Europe, Scandinavia and specifically here in Norway, through our major media, is quite disturbing.
In fact, we can summarise the debate in a few terms: Islamophobia, racism, poverty, immigration, war and terrorism, climate and environmental changes. The first six topics relate to globalisation, cultural and geopolitical domination matters, where concepts such as cleanliness and purity are very often used as metaphors for “our” Western culture and values, and uncleanliness and impurity as metaphors for the “other’s” culture and values. Although this point of view does not reflect the opinion of the majority of Norwegians, it does reflects the opinion of about 17.5 percent of Norwegian voters, which approximately corresponds with the number of voters for the Progress Party (the extreme right).
This point of view, the “other” perceived as a threat, as impurity, as trash, seems also to be the only means of access into the media debate. This is a debate initiated and defined by the editors of the major national newspapers, such as the conservative Aftenposten.
Climate and the environment are tightly linked to the first topics. Here again, the interrogation seems to be blocked between two points of views, one that supports the UN Climate Report and another that opposes it. Here again we find the same political constellation. On the one hand, we have the extreme right, (the Progress Party), which tends to reduce the climate report to a big hoax, on the other hand we find the other political parties who swear by the report and propose some cosmetic environmental solutions. The aim of this debate is how to reduce the discharge of toxic emissions. In short, waste, as toxic emissions, as household or industrial trash, seems to be a common denominator for globalisation, climate change, environmental, and cultural issues. How do contemporary artists deal with these questions? Do they deal with these questions at all? What can artists tell us about trash, recycling, reducing and reusing? Does trash or decay have any aesthetic value? What is the relationship between archiving and trashing? These are just a few of the questions that contributed to the elaboration of the concept behind “Recycling the looking-glass”.
everydaytrash: How did you select the participating artists?
M’kadmi : Selecting the artists for “Recycling the looking-glass” was tightly bound to the development of the exhibition concept itself. It is a work in progress, and a complicated process because it demands a lot of research, especially if you want to articulate simultaneously different approaches and practices in the same context. Every artist represents a unique and at the same time complex position. When you present artworks made by different artists, side by side, you create not only an opportunity to investigate the artworks, and question the artists behind them, you also provide an occasion to confront your own presuppositions and ideas on art, trash and society.
everydaytrash: One question raised at the seminar was what is the line between art and politics and is there a definable border. What do you think?
M’kadmi : I consider the artist to be an intellectual and a political subject. There is no line between art and life. Art is life, art is science, art is philosophy, art is poetry, and art is politics… The French philosopher Jacques Ranciere describes the political subject, among other things, as a non-static entity and a vector of change. He or she only exists through their actions, through their capacity to change the given landscape, to make visible, to show what was hidden or not perceivable. The political subject opens up the political field through his/her activities, beyond the parameters of all known and accepted political institutions.
We are, everywhere, confronted by interests and ideologies that tend to reduce the artist only to a producer of commodities, rejecting any thoughts and ideas that are not compatible with the idea of the artwork as an open creation, and the idea of the work of art as an object. Utility value is, and has always been, a key theme in an art context, in particular if one eradicates the distinction between the ethical and the aesthetic, as did e.g. Marcel Duchamp with his Fountain in 1917. I situate art’s utility value in its freedom and independence, in its autonomy. In short, the political subject exists as the effective manifestation of the capacity of anyone to personally engage in common affairs.
everydaytrash: What is the connection between found object and trash art?
M’kadmi : Trash art is an art form that insists on a status as waste. Found objects on the other hand, cling tightly to the identity of the object. Found objects are, as the name indicates, a found object, “un objet trouvé”. It is an object that has retained its integrity but has been removed from its original context.
Dadaism and the Surrealists attacked High Art by introducing elements from reality in their works. Kurt Schwitters created art from “ détritus”, “l’art du détritus”. Marcel Duchamp’s readymade gave another dimension to “L’object trouvé”: appropriation, ‘détournement’, subversion, etc.
From Dadaism to Surrealism, to Pop Art, and Situationism to Fluxus and Nouveau Realism and today’s post-modern Trash art and Found objects, we find here many enthralling issues and discourses, both aesthetic as well as socio-political. Trash art questions received aesthetic conventions.
Junk is a powerful medium that must be given an artistic design: Robert Rauschenberg, César, Ben, J.Beuys, David Hammons, Jimmie Durham…The boundary between trash art and found objects is not watertight.
Kjartan Slettemark’s Cocaflower is trash, because an empty Coca Cola can is by definition empty packaging, in other words, trash, recyclable material. South African Willie Bester’s horrifying sculptures of recycled metals that depict cold uniformed giants riding ridiculous war machines are trash, because the objects used in the construction appear as junk. Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé’s African masks made of plastic containers and other garbage strike similar chords. Roddy Bell’s fans and frames are found objects because they are perceived as fans and frames. Safaa Erruas’ pillowcases and shoes are representations of found objects; Jon Gundersen’s briefcase with a pacifier is both a found object and trash, because it combines both. Vigdis Haugtrø and Jan Franciscus de Gier’s Europallets painted with rosemaling are modified found objects; Bill Morrison’s film clip compositions are found footage …
(Recycling the Looking Glass-Trash Art-Found Object)
everydaytrash: How does trash art fit into the canon of accepted and appreciated media? What is the future of trash art?
M’kadmi : In our global art history, a history that is not yet written, Trash art is already an integrated genre. Trash, both as raw material and sign, has a major place in our global contemporary art. Many artworks made of trash are already canonised.
But, in spite of this canonisation Trash remains a “hot” matter because it often entails an implicit, if not explicit, critique of society. For the artist, trash is not solely signs, symptoms, markers, evidence and indicators of interpersonal experience and the various different existential foundations of all humans, but a signifying material for communication and expression.
Asking about the future of Trash art is like asking about our future relation to waste and all that is refused, denied, is in a way asking about our future relation to death.
Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish gave me the heads up about a new campaign to get The Clorox Company, North American distributor of Brita water pitchers, to start a recycling program for the filters ala the one run by the original Brita makers in Europe. For more on the campaign, check out the Web site.
As promised, here’s a bit more detail on the wonderful trash art I encountered in Norway a week and a half ago. Donna Conlon, an American artist living in Panama, has been a trash artist for years. I saw her videos for the first time at the Recycling the Looking Glass-Trash Art-Found Object seminar before the show opened. Conlon gave an artist’s talk and showed some of her amazing video projects. She was also kind enough to answer some questions for Trashtastic Tuesday. Check out her answers and Web site, where much of her work with trash can be perused.
(Video still of Summer Breeze, one of Donna Conlon’s pieces shown in Oslo)
everydaytrash: What are trash trees?
Conlon: they are urban trees which have become “useful” as places to dispose of waste. i discovered them walking around in my neighborhood in Panama City then spent some months photographing them to document the phenomenon. i was just totally intrigued with the fastidiousness they represent – the impulse to put trash SOMEWHERE, and this becomes a very creative solution as the trash is usually placed very deliberately and often with a keen eye for form. i also think they speak to the conflicted nature of our relationship with other living things – we appreciate them with respect to their usefulness to us (more so than for their absolute value).
(“Papitas” photo by Donna Conlon)
everydaytrash: At the seminar, you were asked about the link between politics and activism. Do you see your work as political? Did it become more political over time?
Conlon: political, yes. overtly activist, no. there are much more effective venues for activism. but like i said, if someone’s perspective or actions change as a result of my work, that represents an activist element that i have played, even though it is not my primary intention (and i am happy about it because it indicates successful communication which i am very interested in). my primary intention is to make good art and to stay engaged in the world around me by exploring it, observing and critiquing it. i make work
about things/situations in the world i find intriquing or puzzling – the political content reflects my personal preocupations.
(Photo of “100% Pure,” an installation of a waterfall Conlon constructed from plastic water bottles)
everydaytrash: What drew you to video?
Conlon: the realization that it was more interesting (to me) to not “transform” found objects into something else, but rather to analyze their inherent properties and let them tell us something about ourselves. then video became a way to stay in the discovery moment, to show the actual habitat of the found object (trash being the ultimate found object).
everydaytrash: Who are your trash art inspirations?
Conlon: i came to using trash in art via the trash, not other artists. i’m an opportunist who uses things that are available in my everyday life, and there just happens to be a lot of trash out there available. that said, if i think about other people who have one way or another used trash in their work, i hold Merle Ukeles in utmost esteem.
I watched Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse this weekend, the Belgian film about the French law requiring farmers to allow peasants to collect the leftovers after seasonal harvests that I posted on last week. It was fantastic. Complete with a very present eccentric narrator. For others who haven’t yet seen it, here’s a preview from a British TV station. My favorite was a gourmet chef in the country who picks his own herbs, veggies and grapes from other people’s farms after harvest and cooks and serves them at his restaurant. There are some touchingly somber scenes as well depicting those who really need free produce to get by.