One of the strongest commonalities among the work of the Trash Talk artists is the use of beauty and humor to help convey some of the medium’s harder realities into a more palatable discussion. Garbage, whether saved from our own waste basket or salvaged from the street, comes laden with guilty associations and questionable provenance. Yet, the very familiarity of these materials allows us a deeper understanding into their creative repurposing. As self-described maintenance artist MIERLE LADERMAN UKELES eloquently describes in her 2002 essay for Cabinet Magazine (see quote box), once we put something into our garbage, its previously existence is discarded and its worth leveled to the basest of values. Unless, of course, it gets so lucky as to catch the eye of an artist.
An inclination to address our domestic habitats can also be found in NATHANIEL LIEB’s Hatchling
performance in which he futilely builds a cocoon-like nesting structure
out of cardboard box remnants, held together only by the fickle graces
of hot glue. His Sisyphean undertaking can serve as a mirror to our own
struggles with generating excess packaging, and the urge to surround
ourselves with the comfort of new purchases.
IAN TRASK builds structures out of overabundant cardboard as well, but his
structures serve no utility. Trask turns something usually recognizable
for being rigid, rectangular, and hollow into swirling, soft rolls
compacted into semi-solid forms. His cardboard avoids right angles and
instead creates a new structure that defies the limits of the materials.
The square becomes rounded; the structured becomes organic; the banal
TATTFOO TAN takes on the issue of
excess consumption by using his own leftover food and reviving it,
through the process of composting, with vitality and use. Tan not only
uses this material in his own practice of urban farming, but with his
piece Black Gold he adeptly nods to an infamous piece of 1960s
conceptual art that questions the very practice of evaluating how worth
Playing with the idea of giving short-lived or single-use items longer lifespans, GHOST OF A DREAM
takes the discards of hopeful escapism—used lottery tickets and romance
novels—to create elaborate collages that have a quiet reference to the
sacred geometry found in mandalas, while also bordering into the
decorative baroque. The repetition and time involved in making this work
brings order to the otherwise distracting designs attempting to catch
our eyes for a wishful payout.
SARA HUBBS adopts the
discards of fashion—shoes, purses, and other items that depend on short
attention spans for their continued sales—and hones them into elegant,
three-dimensional drawings that don’t deny their origins, but have lost
all practicality. Seams become contours that define an idiosyncratic
outline of color and movement, suggesting lively characters vying for
RUTH HARDINGER fills the insides of empty
cardboard boxes with wet concrete—testing the limits of the structures
and pushing them just shy of collapse. In negotiating between the
relative fragility of the molds and the heaviness of the liquid, a
balance is achieved. The resulting forms, called Envoys, echo the
conditions of their making. In a waste-not, want-not approach, the
original Containers are splayed open and adopt a new cycle of life,
presenting their interesting history and continuing change.
Flipping the idea of packaging around one more time, VANDANA JAIN
uses plastic blister packs as molds for a new product: solid sugar
casts of the missing object’s packaging shadow. Jain presents these
invisible products arranged into a mandala of contemplation, reflecting
on the absurd means with which we display and sell such items. The sugar
is perhaps likely to last longer than the original items therein.
Addressing the idea of meditation as well, JIMMY MIRACLE
re-packages simple plastic containers which normally hold produce such
as delicate berries, and threads within them row after row of an even
more delicate substance: fine, colorful string. He swaps one element for
another, and the macro to micro transformation quietly creates
a new universe.
With the detail of a skilled quilter, SCOTT ANDRESEN
also sews his materials with loving attention. The ragged discarded
materials he chooses to use, however, contrast sharply with the careful
consideration he imbues them with. His use of an established craft form,
often borne of frugality, when paired with the absurdity of his unusual
chosen cloth, creates a poignant reflection on the arbitrary nature of
why we discard so readily.
In homage to another ancient craft form, SHARI MENDELSON
forms vessels out of the ubiquitous, and much maligned, plastic bottle.
Her work highlights the beauty to be found in the unexpected details of
these often overlooked containers. In her hands, the vessel is
dismantled, broken down into components, sorted by similarities, then
resurrected, ironically, into another vessel. The historical reference
to terracotta urns and ancient glass relics begs the question: are these
the future antiquities that we will leave behind?
performs a thorough transformation on his containers of
choice—industrial steel drums. In a simple act of force, he flattens
their shapes, removing their very essence of being able to contain, and
then gives them a new dressing of lush, colorful paint that is a far cry
from the rough patina of the original. The juxtaposition of brutal
energy and resulting calm is the compelling attractor of two opposites
coexisting with grace—the embodiment of yin and yang.
with one of the most basic answers to the question “What is art?” all of
these artists create meaning and value from, in essence, nothing. Their
artistic labor is often repetitive and intricate, and laced with a
desire to change the status quo of how we perceive the products deemed
disposable in our lives. Their well considered actions indicate an
attempt to create a type of order from an origin where chaos reigns—our
– LISA DAHL, 2012