Can trash be art?

Hey gang! I’d like to veer away from my usual, overly-enthusiastic format of showing you what we have in store for our upcoming pop-up shop (Saturday, April 19th, at the Oakhurst Earth Day Celebration) to take pause and discuss some bigger-picture issues with you. Sure, we rescue wickedly awesome materials from the landfill; yes, we siphon those things to artists and teachers and other educational programs; of course, we’ll do whatever we can to empower you to make art and/or get your creative juices flowing because we honestly believe that makes you a better person. But, I think we’ve been rather delicate about the other side of our mission, the one that can hit you like a brick in the face. Or, more specifically, like a giant plastic brick the size of your car in your face:

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I came upon this pulling into the Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market recycling yard, and I was struck by, quite honestly, how visually cool it was. I mean, my immediate second instinct was an emphatic “Grooooosssssssssss,” (because, clearly, I’m still 14 in my head), but initially, I kind of gasped and exclaimed. Not because I’m some weird trash freak, mind you, but because it is kind of neat. The mass of it, the colors, the busy texture–if you look at it as a sculpture, it’s pretty intriguing. And, it’s a bunch of tiny things that have been manipulated to form one giant surface. That can’t be overlooked!

Also–and this may need to be experienced in person–the thing I got from it was the sheer life emanating from it. To further explain: one time, checking out at a thrift store, the lady in front of me was telling the cashier how she loved shopping there, not because she loved how cheap the things were, but because she loved “the stories” everything told. She said, “I just love to come in here sometimes and touch everything and imagine who owned it and what they did with it. It’s the best thing to do when I have a bad day or I’m upset.” That interpretation stuck with me (so much so that I’m still able to quote that woman), and standing in front of a giant plastic mass built out of nothing but human consumption–there’s no denying the story, the humanness of it all. It may be a mundane, soulless story–one only occupied by water, root beer, ginger ale, laundry detergent, cat litter, milk, yogurt, a hamper, hangers, bathroom cleaners, and toothpaste carcasses–but it’s a story we’re telling whether we intend to or not.

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Here at WonderRoot Creative Reuse, we make no bones about it: we trade in garbage. Some of you have my first reaction: “how cool is that!”,”this all looks so neat!”, “I can’t believe all this was being thrown away!”; others of you have my second reaction: “gross.”, “ew.” “I mean, really, don’t touch that.” However, whenever we can, we try to tell the story: the story of where the bubble kegs come from, why the felt scraps are the sizes that they are, who Kerry is and why she donated her epic stamp collection. We take in piles of six-pack rings and bottle caps knowing that if there is one or five in your house you think nothing of it, but when you see hundreds amassed like we have, then you start asking questions like, “why is this appealing? what can I do with these?” In short, we try to convey the humanness, the presence of life, albeit a former one.

But also, I think, we’re missing something in our mission here. We’ve been so focused on educating the community on how to make art out of garbage, we haven’t really considered the question of whether the garbage is the art itself. Recently, I was exposed to the work of photographer Chris Jordan, who, with his wall-sized photographs of waste that make my cute phone photo of plastic bottles look minuscule, answers this question with a resounding “YES.” He creates an impact that swallows you whole via the immense size of the photo itself and the seemingly insurmountable depth of the subject matter: crushed cars, cell phones, circuit boards. (He also has a series where he creates one large image out of many small things that reflect a certain statistic. For instance, a 60×60″ mosaic that uses 9,960 mail order catalogs, equal to the average number of pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered, and disposed of in the US every three seconds.)

So, at this point in my ramblings, I’d like to turn the conversation over to you, dear readers. Can trash be art? Or do we have to make something, repurpose something to give it more meaning? What wealth of reactions do you have to pictures of compacted plastic receptacles or to settings like our pop-up shop? And how do you feel about those reactions? Is WRCR’s environmental mission as relevant or impactful as it can be? What, if any, projects would you propose for us to further convey that mission?

I do hope you’ll respond! I’m really excited to get this conversation going, and we just don’t meet for tea like we used to. Kidding, I’ll see you Saturday, April 19th in Oakhurst. Let’s have a jovial debate then!

This entry was posted in Creative Reuse, Festivals, Materials, WonderRoot and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can trash be art?

  1. fisbn says:

    I like this,very well written..Larry

  2. Trash can be art, but its aesthetic appeal can’t overtake the larger problem of how much waste we actually create. I take trash all the time and make it into treasure – I love making something new out of something old. And I totally agree re the stories of things at thrift and salvage stores.

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