Project 8

The project I would like to propose expands upon an article I wrote that traced the recent use of trash and garbage as a subject matter for emerging contemporary visual artists, and also delved into earlier artistic precedents. I have continued to research and reflect upon the broader implications of this theme, which seems to be an inexhaustible source. In fact, at the current Venice Biennale, Klara Liden’s installation of 10 public trashcans won special mention among the Golden Lion awards.

For most of the past century, the modern world was so involved with concepts of progress and abstraction, the man-made and the new, that it escaped notice that the basic underlying material of modern life and art wasn’t any of those things. It was trash. Now, in a reality that has rapidly become ever more virtual and disembodied, it is obvious that the secret obsession of many 20th century artists–from Picasso’s newsprint and wallpaper collages to Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau (and in fact the very process of collage), and Arman’s “Poubelles” made from the contents off other artist’s waste-bins, and so on through Fluxus and scatter-works to Abject art, Funk art, and Grunge–was none other than trash itself. Rubbish is the repressed that is now making its return.

Trash became the end product of the 20th century’s culture of waste. And now, with a crucial shift in attitude, trash has become not simply a material for art but a subject with ecological and environmental importance, debris is now an inescapable fact. Pioneering artists since the late 1960s, including Mierle Laderman Ukeles, David Hammons, and Jessica Stockholder, have been working with garbage as a subject for decades. More recently, the overabundance of obsolete things has informed the work of Sarah Sze, El Anatsui, and Thomas Hirschhorn among many other visual artists. Paul Chan’s 2004 double-sided video animation, titled “My Birds… Trash… The Future” and Vic Muniz’s 2008 “Portraits of Garbage”, a collaboration with the trash-pickers at a huge Brazilian garbage dump, have made trash their subject matter. So has Esther Partegas’s sculptural re-creation of overlooked spaces of consumption (airport lounge, highway underpass, empty lot), Mika Rottenberg’s video “Squeeze” (2010), with its outcome ( a compressed cube of garbage sent to the Cayman Islands for storage), and Chris Doyle’s digital animation, “The Waste_Generation” (2010). All of these works expose the urgency with which artists now regard the subject of trash. Beset by recent environmental and industrial catastrophes, such as the oil spill in the gulf and the tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan, trash has increasing and sometimes horrific relevance.

The historical, sociological, ecological, environmental, and political ramifications extend far beyond the scope of my published article, which I now think of as a preamble to a much larger study. I feel this theme would lend itself to a collaborative project in which critics of different arts (such as film, theater, literature, and new media) could easily collaborate with me and my continuing explorations of the visual arts.