Monday, May 05, 2014

3 views of trash: sea (tsunami & islands)

from Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers II project

Bonnie Louise Monteleone & the Plastic Ocean Project

detail from Basurama’s Trash Tsunami in Santo Domingo, DR

Of course, there's always a darker, less sanitized side to this trash business, too. For example, Chris Jordan explores this from about the starkest, most direct angle possible: in situ photos of decomposing albatross carcasses, dead of starvation having filled their bellies with inedible sea plastics.

This is from his Midway project, shot in the general neighborhood of the infamous pacific trash vortex. (Also known affectionately as the great pacific garbage patch, more wishfully as the plastic beach, or, simply, "the gyre.")  Here at Midway Atoll, this includes Albatross chicks who are fed small pieces of plastic by unsuspecting parents, eventually killing them. This is a series with far too many photos. And if we're talking about taking plastics and other chemical toxins into our bodies, we know that albatrosses are certainly not alone as a species in this.

Like many, I think there are serious problems with aesthetizing waste and toxicity. Jordan nods to some of this on Midway, and on earlier projects, like his Intolerable Beauty. But you see this ambivalence in that Gorillaz album, for example, as Murdoc describes his discovery of the "plastic beach." And you see it in people's attempts to describe these places and phenomena. Like where surfer Tim Silverwood explains: "I was frolicking in cinematic heaven before quickly being swamped by a feeling of being delivered into a postcard of oceanic hell."

Are these boldly aesthicized (and fetishized?) representations worth the strategic risks of normalizing trash? Of making it seem benign, or even beautiful? Are they necessary and inevitable points along the arc of our realizing long-ignored horrors? Drawing us through understandings of "litter" as less an ecological problem than an aesthetic one, but then flipping this to reckon with the larger scales of consumerism, waste, and toxicity as massive "environmental" and public health crises?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

3 views of trash: land (the parts we throw away)

When this Landfill Harmonic trailer first came out a year or so ago, I got several different emails from friends and family linking me here and there. Since I’ve never been to Paraguay, and as I have no musical talent to speak of, I’m left to attribute this coincidence to a known interest on my part in garbage and various sorts of cheapskatery.

This may also account for why I’ve been so into what people like Vik Muniz and Chris Jordan have been doing with trash too.

Anyway, earlier this spring, I was able to work along similar lines (but on a much less ambitious project) with some colleagues friends and students. Aside from Muniz and Jordan, some of our inspiration here comes from Chuck Close, Zac Freeman, pointillism more generally, and other upcycling projects.

So, here’s what we came up with:
And a little story from the local paper.
(Above the fold and in color! Not bad, eh?)