Artists are magicians in their own right for making something from nothing, for infusing the everyday mundane tools and objects with poetic meaning and creating a whole new experience from it. In the holiday season, with a good part of society taking part in excess shopping, people are becoming increasingly conscious of what we discard. Our relationship to the accumulation of stuff and the level of waste humans produce seems to be collectively shifting. The artists whose work is shared here: David Ellis, Vik Muniz, Gabriel Kuri, Song Dong, Tim Noble and Sue Webster demonstrate the way individual artistic voices arise from this consciousness and the beautiful and often magical work that is informed by our accumulated or discarded stuff.
Time Noble and Sue Webster are masters in the art of transformation. As demonstrated here, the collaborative artist pair tend to work in scraps of wood that have been thrown away and use the element of light as a critical component in the rendering of their imagery. The presence of light as the catalyst for the tableau to unfold theoretically sheds light on a sort of “eye of the beholder” thematic. “The process of transformation, from discarded waste, scrap metal or even taxidermy creatures to a recognizable image, echoes the idea of ‘perceptual psychology’ a form of evaluation used for psychological patients,” explains the pair’s artist statement. Using the detritus of life as an artistic Rorschach test seemingly on themselves, Noble and Webster’s work yields captivating results.
The work of David Ellis when seen in photographs may just look like a regular old pile of garbage, but witnessing this kinetic work in action quickly reveals its genius. Ellis is a highly diverse artist with work ranging from street art to painted installations- all of it being highly dynamic and with a clear vision. His works referred to as “Trash Talk,” entitled with a delicious double entendre, moves and makes rhythmic beats, reminiscent of Stomp, or street musicians. His work is best viewed in video format to properly witness the sound and movement.
Vik Muniz immersed himself in the world of garbage- literally. His photographs in the series titled “Pictures of Garbage”explore on many levels the lives of catadores- pickers of recyclable garbage- in the world’s largest landfill outside Rio de Janeiro. Muniz worked with conviction and compassion on this project which deeply involved the catadores whose lives are spent entirely amidst the rubble of the world’s refuse. By photographing his subjects, then enlisting the help of the catadores to recreate the image from an ariel view using the wasted objects they interact with on a daily basis, Muniz captured his subjects on both an individual and collective level. The photographic works were sold for an incredibly high price, and the Muniz gave the money back to the people that participated in the work. The whole project culminated in a documentary entitled Wasteland, which won multiple awards and accolades, telling the story of Muniz’s journey and shedding light onto the inspiring people he worked with.
Gabriel Kuri uses discardable objects as a sort of consumeristic paper trail, albeit in a poetic and minimalistic sensibility. Often incorporating receipts from absurdly mundane purchases and objects like drug store cosmetics, Kuri renders his work in clean contemporary lines and presentation- elevating his everyday purchase paper trail to a reverential high art status. The receipts are often rendered into woven tapestries. Historically, personally woven tapestries have been objects possessed only by higher class aristocratic peoples, therefore the everyday inexpensive purchase that Kuri selects for transcription on his receipt tapestries bears a subversive subtext. Also fascinating is the architectural simplicity to Kuri’s granite slab pieces. Using the slabs as shelves for cheap mass produced objects imbeds a certain irony and idiosyncrasy into otherwise minimalist stone sculpture.
The work “Waste Not” by Song Dong enlists a more personal level of attachment to objects. This huge installation which I experienced at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and was also installed on the mezzanine of the MOMA. The installation includes all of the objects that Song Dong’s mother collected over the years, accumulating and nearly hoarding due to her family’s experience with poverty earlier in her life. The household possessions are organized and lovingly laid out in a grid formation around the hut-like structure in a manner that seems to individually present each object and categorization of objects up for the viewers consideration. The installation was structured in such a way that a path was carved out amidst all the shoes, cooking utensils, yarns, etc, that guided your experience of the things Song Dong’s mother clung to throughout the years.