The Art of Waste: 5 Artist Challenging Disposability Culture

The Art of Waste: 5 Artist Challenging Disposability Culture


Mimesis is the concept in the art world of art imitating life, and with the massive amount of trash we throw out daily and all the problems that is creating in the world, it’s no wonder that artists are putting that uglier side of the world in the spotlight. But given the art world’s playful take on materiality these days, some artists are taking things a step further and are making the art out of the trash itself. The medium is the message after all. Here are five artists directly tackling the issues of contemporary disposability with profound pieces of work.

Luzinterruptus Collective

Luzinterruptus is an anonymous art collective who work with public, temporary, urban installations. Given that they often make art about the under-discussed issues happening in cities, it’s easy to see how trash and disposability are main topics of theirs. Luzinterruptus has a knack for making the scale of our trash problem feel overwhelming to the viewer. Here is a piece aptly titled Labyrinth of Plastic Waste, which gives visitors to the exhibit a palpable feeling of being trapped in the monumental amount of plastic we generate. Their piece Plastic Islands makes a comic-yet-sad recontextualization of Madrid’s iconic Plaza de Cibeles by filling the fountains in the plaza with discarded plastics, literalizing the idea of “drowning in trash” and reminiscent of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Importantly, Luzinterruptus only used plastic that was thrown out in the plaza for this project, further showing just how acute the trash problem is.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster

These London based artists got quite famous for their series of Shadow Sculptures, where the actual sculptural pieces are piles of seemingly random garbage but the shadows that they cast turn out to be precise figures. The first of this collection, Miss. Understood and Mr. Meaner appears to be a shadow self portrait while also shows off their humor. The thing that separates these sculptures from the shadow puppets we made as children (aside from the obvious skill in their creation) is that the trash is every bit as much of the art as the shadow. These sculptures work as almost a reversal of societies relationship with trash. Normally of course we put trash in bins, the bins get taken away, and we never have to think about it again, but here the trash is in the forefront and humanity becomes ephemeral. The sculptures themselves vary from wood scraps to literal McDonalds packaging, but throughout the series the theme of physical trash and incorpreal humanity stays strong.  

Sayaka Ganz

Sayaka Ganz does something very unique and surprising with her trash sculptures. Instead of showing the ugliness of accumulated disposable objects, she finds something beautiful in them and laments their loss. She was raised with Shinto animist beliefs, which include the belief that all things have spirits. So living in a world where so much stuff gets thrown out, she sees a world where their spirits are getting tossed aside, and so she wants to rediscover their lost beauty. Her works are beautiful animal sculptures made out of discarded objects, mainly plastics, and in this way she is breathing life into them again. Many of her animals are in striking mid-motion postures and almost all evoke some sort of otherworldly quality to them. Even if you’re not Shinto, these works should still remind you of what gets lost when we segment the materials of the world into discardable plastics.

Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi

This art duo made quite a splash for New Yorkers with their piece Harvest Dome. The idea was to give trash a fleeting glimpse at being beautiful before becoming waste again. The dome itself was made out of umbrellas and kept afloat by plastics bottles all discarded by New Yorkers, and was to act as a piece of “performance architecture.” The piece was there to remind New Yorkers of the natural inlets and marshes that existed in New York before heavy industrialization set in, especially in Gowanus Canal, which is one of the most polluted waterways in America and currently the focus of a massive cleanup effort. While origionally designed to be hopeful, in some sort of unfortunate yet poetic twist of fate, the toxic Gowanus proved too polluted for the temporary moment of beauty and the art accidentally took a darker tone. The dome snagged on a piece of trash in Gowanus and sank before it could be fished out and disposed of properly. Luckily plans are already underway to clean it out, and also that Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi have plenty of other environmentally themed ideas they are working with.

Jenny O’Dell

The final artist on this list is Jenny O’Dell, who has quite a few ideas on trash, everyday products and art, including selfies made out of garbage. One extremely interesting piece serves as a reminder of how international our everyday objects are. Jenny O’Dell picked a day, Monday April 1st, 2013, and kept track of absolutely everything she used. She then meticulously went through and tracked down the manufacturing origins of each and every single object she used whose origins were traceable. She describes this piece as a “meditation on our relationships to things, and the geographically schizophrenic path we trace through their use.” What’s mesmerizing about this piece is the sheer size of the list, both in terms of the number of items she used in one average day and the number of places of origins each objects had. It gets even more shocking when you realize that the list is only about the assembly of each product. The phone she listed was assembled in Korea, but there’s a good chance the Zinc in that phone was mined in Peru and the Copper was mined Indonesia. With that logic extrapolated out for each and every object for just one normal day, it’s clear that the scale that goes into our culture of throwing things away is somehow even more terrifying.

Art has the power to change minds and change the world. Hopefully these perspectives from these brilliant artists will inspire people to make changes to the world. Exposing the realities of our massive trash output will hopefully help spread awareness about the dangers of this unsustainable lifestyle.

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