art affairs is presenting a group exhibition entitled 'what is waste?'. balancing concept, matter and activism the exhibition showcases seven artistic positions including and engaging with waste.
it may be argued that waste embodies both a material continuity as well as a temporal discontinuity. thus it exposes us to a world of matter on the one hand. on the other hand it seems to animate a time passed, passing and to come. it is evidence of life, disclosing our humanity and inviting narrative engagement. at the same time it is somehow anti-human and untimely, betraying a more intrinsic relationship with matter and life (from: william viney, waste; a philosophy of things (bloomsbury: 2014)).
from the early 20th century there has been a long tradition of using waste materials or found objects in works of art. the artists in what is waste? however make waste a matter open to new recoding or re-animation. the title of the exhibition references the signature piece of the collages trouvés series by herman de vries: untitled (what is rubbish?) from 1956. one of the works from this series will be on show together with "untitled", may 2015, a collage of artefacts found in the giardini in preparation of the venice biennale. both works challenge the very concept of waste, art and life as does the entire exhibition.
maarten vanden eynde’s paleontologic plastic V (2015) and continental drift III (2015) derive from his main area of research: the anthropocene. this is a new geological term for an era in which people have left a significant impact on planet earth. in e.g. paleontologic plastic the artist uses pseudo-archaelogical methods collecting, arrranging and displaying waste plastic artefacts in a cabinet of curiosities as evidences of human activity. similarly continental drift is a powerful testimony of mankind’s earthly heritage. both works hover between the past and the future, intermingling playful hypothesis with existential reprimand.
mierle lademan ukeles has been the only artist in residence in the history of nyc department of sanitation since 1977. her work touch sanitation performance, 1977-1980 is one of ukeles’ most ambitious early projects and a milestone in the history of performance art. taking almost a year, ukeles met over 8,500 employees of the new york sanitation department, shaking hands with each of them and saying: “thank you for keeping new york city alive.” according to ukeles “making waste is the surest sign that we’re alive”. the photographs and documents on show qualify mr sanman “as a model of the man of the 21st century, taking care of our living places and thereby ultimately the whole earth.”
jan eric visser focusses on the transformation of his everyday garbage items into autonomous works of art. he likes to refer to this process as form follows garbage, envisaging a post-industrial future in which valuable resources will be cherished and no longer incinerated as ‘waste’. his new work, untitled 2014-2015, is filled to the brim with five garbage bags of his inorganic household waste, ‘our collective capital’ as he puts it. impregnated with votive candlewax residue the work implicitly refers to the myth of icarus. also on show: ruins of desire II (2015) an outdoor sculpture project in which visser is offering a platform to innovative materials such as a new type of concrete developed by technical university eindhoven. this concrete of waste materials is capable of eliminating air pollution also known as nitrogen oxides.
izaak zwartjes’ new work follows from a period of pilgrimages with self-constructed vehicles and shelters in search of a spiritual world. composed of animal remains, the work calls up associations of a totem, animated and caught in slow mutation. the work seems to linger between a mythical fantasy and a reality in which all things go to waste. time made tangible by collapse and decay.
dianna cohen, artist and co-founder of plastic pollution coalition, offers us in los ojos a world of plastic seduction with its connotations to mass production, convenience and disposability. though the ubiquitous plastic bag has one of the shortest intended life spans, it may outlive us and is already invading our ecosystem.
ryohei kawanishi’s garments may be seen as an artistic statement against fast fashion. the video of untitled (2011) shows eight sculptural collages of accumulated fabrics, threads, worn shoes and social media logo’s. the eight compositions of the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even (2015) draw inspiration from the ideas of marcel duchamp. kawanishi wittily explores how fashion may comment on issues within and beyond his own discipline.
recoding and revalidating waste the artists on show engage themselves with matters beyond recycling and its narrative of use. reconciling concept, matter and activism the exhibition raises questions about consummation and transience, enigma and exigency, life and art, matter and existence, science and humanity. what is waste? therefore may be said to echo the duchampian question: ‘what is art?’ and to build on the ultimate question: ‘what is life?’