Posts Tagged ‘Samir M’kadmi’

Got a light?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Over the course of 10 months, Brooklyn-based artist Willis Elkins collected nearly 2000 cigarette lighters from the shorelines of New York City, documented, photographed and mapped them.


Elkins, who describes himself as being “very interested in all facets of consumer culture, product disposability and the waste infrastructure,” has a number of other interesting projects on his site LESS logs. Less stands for Locate Explore Synthetic Sites.

The lighter project in particular reminds me of Norwegian artist Jon Gunderson‘s contribution to the 2008 “Through the Looking Glass: From Found Object to Trash Art” show curated by Samir M’kadmi (and opened with a keynote by yours truly, still one of the coolest opportunities every brought on by everydaytrash). Gunderson presented a series of found briefcases each filled neatly with objects found on walks through Oslo. He had a case filled with pacifiers, one with cigarette lighters and another filled entirely with black shoe soles.

Oslo art show

Somehow organizing these everyday objects in cases and putting those cases on a row of podiums elevated their status from trash to art with social commentary. Elkins’ projects do the same. Check them out!

Semi-related post: Introspective trash.

Trashtastic Thursday with Samir M’kadmi

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Samir M'kadmi

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”.

Artist Jan Franciscus de Gier discusses the Euro pallets he and partner Vigdis Haugtrø contributed to the show with a Nowegian artist attending the opening

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.

Duchamp's "Fountain"

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.

Schwitters' "Cherry Picture"

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 …

Work by Bester

Work by Hazoumé

“Recycling the looking-glass” publication

(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.

Samir and Nasra at the opening

Everydaytrash on the Road

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Recycling the Looking Glass catalog

“Hi hi” from Oslo. I’m here attending the opening of “Recycling the Looking Glass, Trash Art-Found Objects” a wonderful group show curated by the incomparable Samir M’kadmi. Much, much more will be posted here about the show, the contributors and organizers. At the moment, I’ll throw up a couple photos from the opening seminar and the piece I submitted to the catalog (my talk was basically a longer version of what’s below). Other panalists included a feminist art critic, an economist and an ecologist who uses trash art projects to teach kids about the environment. Two artists also gave talks. Stay tuned for less Leila-centric posts very soon, I have met amazing artists and art world peeps from all over the World this weekend and can’t wait to share the virtual booty with all of you!

A Short History of Garblogging

My obsession with trash began when, as a journalism student in New York City, I started researching the unimaginable number of tax dollars spent each year transferring garbage from my hometown to places as far away as the middle of the country.

New York closed it’s only landfill in 2001 with no immediate plans for what to do with all the trash created by the millions of local residents and businesses. The immediate solution was to export the waste to other states, an expensive venture involving enormous contracts with private waste haulers. Previously, the city had evacuated the majority of its trash on barges pulled by tugboats. This new plan created a billion-dollar-a-year industry and added significantly to the number of trucks circling the already congested city streets.

Not surprisingly, the poorest neighborhoods bore the brunt of these changes. In order for the garbage to be moved long distances, it had to be emptied from local dump trucks and packed up again into larger vehicles. This transfer of trash—a smelly process that attracts rats—continues to take place in several of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

While the story I was writing focused on local politics, my fascination with garbage extended far beyond the United States. I started to see trash as everything from an indicator of poverty to a medium for art. Before long, everyone I knew associated me with trash and when they came across related factoids, I would receive an email. So I started a blog. The Internet seemed to be the perfect outlet for these tidbits and the perfect venue to start a larger conversation.

Through the Looking Glass panel

(French economist Gérard Bertolini, me, Panama-based American artist Donna Conlon)

The wonderful thing about the World Wide Web is that if you have a pet interest, it is easy to locate whole communities of people who share that interest. And so it was for me with trash. Soon after launching, over two years ago now, I discovered a universe of other sites dealing with interrelated themes. Because my interest in the subject had grown from local politics, it took me some time to think of as an environmental or “green” blog.

My audience had no such doubts. I quickly realized that the majority of people interested in trash are interested in reducing waste and approach the issue in terms of saving the planet. I came across people keeping track of their own waste online, weighing their garbage each day and trying hard to make less the next. And there were sales sites, marketing niche environmentally-friendly products to those willing to pay a bit more for a clear conscience. There appears to be a huge market out there for reusable tote bags, organic baby clothes and business card holders made from recycled gasoline.

It doesn’t take much exploration into the world of trash to see that, fundamentally, trash is an economic and class issue. Only those less fortunate ever have to worry about what happens to what society discards. The rest of society, on the other hand, sleepwalks through life believing that trash disappears the moment it hits the bottom of a trash can.

Early on in the life of the blog, I became interested in trash pickers, communities of people who go through the trash and find new uses for what others have chucked. In Argentina, China and Egypt and probably many other places, there are words for these people and the practice is associated with very particular ethnic groups. In many other places, people supplement their income by collecting and redeeming cans or hunting for and selling scrap metal. Sifting through the smattering of articles that pop up each year on trash pickers, I am constantly reminded of the wastefulness of the era I live in.

"Garblogging" translated in the English/Norweigan catalog--love it!

Once you notice trash, it’s hard to ignore. Around the time I was pouring through New York’s solid waste management plans, my job at a public health nonprofit began taking me to Africa. There, I encountered a relationship with material goods entirely foreign to me. Terms like recycling and zero waste have no place in these societies where value and lifespan of any given product are given their full respect. In places where people have very little, these concepts are organic.

I met a roadside tailor in Malawi who spent his days mending the worn clothing of local villagers, squeezing extra days, weeks and months out of the worn fabric. In Uganda, women from the North, an area burdened by enduring violence and high rates of HIV/AIDS, form beads out of old magazine pages that they then shellac to create brightly colored bracelets and necklaces. Women in Kenya collect floating flip flops from the ocean to refashion into crafts to sell; one project has even created a giant whale out of the discarded plastic shoes to raise awareness about the dangers of plastic waste to marine life. Plastic bags in Burkina Faso are twisted into small dolls and sold to tourists. While the African cultures I visited varied dramatically, the unmistakable smell of burning garbage welcomed me the moment I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac in a new city.

In fact, many of the news articles I read while traveling focused the depletion of Africa’s resources and the threat of disease. The contrast between the joyful and hopeful efforts of the beaders and doll makers and the overall pessimism of news coverage on Africa fed my enthusiasm for blogging. I was glad to have a forum to highlight positive, homegrown responses to seemingly overwhelming problems.

Of course many positive approaches to the subject of trash come from the artistic community. Through, I have discovered “trashion” designers who create fantastical outfits from discarded items as well as countless artists who use trash as a dynamic medium with which to create provocative pieces. What I love most about these works is their effortless incorporation of an often dense political topic. Trashtastic!

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