Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trash Art by Meika Jensen

Trash Takes Museums by Storm
Meika Jensen

Sustainability haunts every classroom in this country. Everyone, from those in accredited masters degree programs to kindergarten students, are discussing the issue and making changes both lifestyle and policy changes. The art community is no different.  Charged with showing the world a picture of itself, capturing the very essence of life, in a day and age plagued by waste and plastic it is no wonder that artists are turning to trash for inspiration.

A shiny chandelier is constructed of worn out kitchen pipes.  Children inspect sculptures of mythological horses crafted from plastic bottles. Disco balls made entirely of metal cans and shreds of paper towels.  All of these bits and scraps of trash and rubbish represent faces of a new movement that is taking place in at the forefront of the art world. The movement originates from deep inside the plastic arts community and is all about taking regular recyclable materials, as well as those that are reusable not but exactly recyclable, and turning them into functional everyday reproducible objects.

Stepping away from the idea that art should be made for art’s sake, these artists are spreading a greater global message - the ability to turn weaknesses into strengths by changing the aesthetics of ugly. The current driving idea in eco-art is that of transformation of trash into something functional as well as visually stunning.

Using trash in the material for art was a launch pad for the new artists. Today, people are not as shocked at this trend as they were at the beginning; artists have succeeded in incorporating repurposed materials into the acceptable realm of materials and concepts. Whether they are making a house out of bottles or calling a urinal a fountain, yesterday’s waste is tomorrow masters degree program fodder.   

More and more artists are preoccupied by the ecological impact of waste and the significance of a throw away culture. Artistic manifestos seem to make their way into the woods as well; since Thoreau wrote Walden and Native art broke into mainstream museums, artists have kept it on their radar.

The answer of the artistic community to the new wave of trash-art is a rather warm one. There are some traditional painters who cannot accept that a tree made of plastic has the same artistic value as a tree painted by Rembrandt, Degas, Monet or Mondrian. However, most artists themselves recognize the fact that today’s over-consumption model is not viable and needs a major redesign, continuing the tradition of portraiture and consumption wouldn’t be breaking any norms.

The future will probably see the most compelling pieces exposed somewhere in a museum buried in a landfill. Projects of this kind are already in place in San Diego, according to the University of California’s Institute of Research in the Arts. Other projects will probably be formatted as creative workshops and short-term expositions moving from one part of the country to another. The public seems to be the winner, as the new generation of artists who believe in recycling can serve as a moral model to the even younger generations who are sure to follow.

However, if art ever repeats itself, it is only in the sense that norms will be broken. Once trash art is ubiquitous, it will go the way of marble sculptures.