Artist of the Week: Niki Lederer



Niki Lederer’s  Color Me Clean is made of strips of  plastic from ordinary soda bottles.

Niki Lederer is enjoying a moment. She makes work out of ordinarily plastic bottles–the number one source of litter, which is everywhere. So why shouldn’t her work be everywhere?  It is. This month alone, the Trashman and his Faithful Companion have seen her sculptures and site specific installation at the Governor’s Island Art Fair and at Adelphi University’s sculpture biennial in Garden City, NY. All of her engaging creations are made from discarded and found objects. She cuts them up with scissors and reassembles them with wire and monofilament into an infinite variety of shapes. She says she hopes her humorous approach to her work will make us think about mass consumption–both the “mass” and the “consumption.”

The Trashman salutes her.


Lederer’s portrait of Chewbacca is a light-hearted look at litter.


Lederer’s installation on Governor’s Island is a nod to Rapunzel and her bad hair day.

Just Coasting Along…



Bits of non-biodegradable plastic, like the pieces enmeshed in these sea plants,  will float through our oceans forever

Tha Trashman and Faithful Companion greeted a dozen sun-tanned Fire Island neighbors last weekend during the 30th Annual International Coastal Cleanup. The Ocean Conservancy sponsors the event on the third Saturday of every September, and it takes place all over the world. The scope of the project is not just impressive, it’s staggering: more than 80,000 international volunteers pick up and identify 18 million pounds of water-logged garbage–and that’s just in a single day.

On Fire Island, the number one source of ocean garbage is party balloons and wine bottles. It’s Fire Island, after all. Internationally the list is more prosaic, with cigarette butts the top offender, followed by the usual suspects…soda bottles, bottle caps, plastic bags, straws and food wrappers. Whether the garbage ends up in the ocean because of deliberate dumping or accident, the source is always human beings. A century ago, the trash in our waterways was biodegradable, but now it’s plastic and lasts for centuries.

Saturday, as the event began, Trashman was amused by the little clip board and pen in Faithful Companion’s hand. She was diligently recording all the litter she found. So just like her… but he was wrong to jest. The Ocean Conservancy uses information volunteers collect to shape ocean policy on a national level, to educate the public and to alter the way some common debris is manufactured. The hope is clean oceans and positive change. After all, water makes up two-thirds of the planet. Yes, thinks Trashman, things are picking up.


Litter from all of us ends up on beaches all over the world.


Mary Parker and friends at Davis Park, Fire Island, were among the 18,000 volunteers that participated in this year’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

The Spin Cycle



Mark Dion’s cabinet of curiosities catalogs trash from the Pacific Gyre.

Did you hear the one about the couple who moved to the farthest island in Alaska to get away from it all?  Turns out, their Alaskan paradise was the terminus for the Pacific Gyre, the largest concentration of plastic garbage known to man. The Gyre is an island  made entirely of refuse, in the middle of the Pacific, bigger than Texas. Every bit of trash we heave into our western waterways, from soda bottles to fishing line,  ends up here. The gyre is in constant motion, so it spits some of its contents back into currents that carry it to our Alaskan couple’s backyard. “Sort of like the spin cycle in our washing machine, but on a cosmic level,”explained Faithful Companion to the Trashman the other day. The Trashman, who remains ignorant of household matters, nodded  sagely. Ah, yes…our washing machine. And that is where, precisely? But Trashman digresses.

A team of scientists, artists and environmentalists have been studying all that garbage that ends up in Alaska. The idea is to trace the migratory patterns of ocean debris and eventually figure out ways to clean it all up.  Artist Mark Dion created a cabinet of curiosities from the cast-offs he found along the Alaskan shores. They come from every country imaginable–Japan, Iran, China, Indonesia, California–a kind of United Nations of litter. Dion’s installation is travelling a lot these days, and is now on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton.The artist was joined on the Gyre expedition by Pam Longobardi,who Trashman profiled several years ago, writer Carl Safina, and two eminent photographers, Andy Hughes and Edward Burtynsky.

The art and photographs they create are proof of the thousand word adage: The work says it all–especially Andy Hughes’ evocative portraits of the most common items scavenged from those Alaskan shorelines.


Yards and yards of fishing line and filament end up in the Gyre.


Hughes camera turns Pacific Gyre debris into art–but its still a treat to sea life.


Hughes transforms a small bit of plastic into a majestic ruin.


Buoys are plentiful cast-offs in the ocean.

Artist of the Week: Fabrice Monteiro



Wearing a dress of wood scraps, a model walks through a vanished woodland. Unchecked wood harvesting and clear-cutting has eliminated most of the vegetation in Senegal.

Trashman is not famous for his sartorial splendor but Faithful Companion is quite the fashionista. She knows her way around a Valentino jumpsuit. She approves of Bjork’s swan dress and everything Lady Gaga, including the recent lady-like Lady Gaga. Naturally she is intrigued by Fabrice Monteiro’s fantastic fashion-as-ecology creations. Monteiro cobbles together ball gowns and statement dresses from the trash and garbage he finds in polluted areas of his native Dakar. Then he poses his models at the many toxic sites in Senegal, one of the most contaminated places on the planet. It’s just like a Vogue magazine shoot, only smellier. Monteiro collaborates with Doulsy, a fashion designer, and the Ecofund to raise awareness about the devastating extent of environmental damage in his country and all of Africa.

Monteiro’s photographs are published together in an album called “The Prophecy.” And that’s what his images are: a prophecy for the future we all need to heed. Trashman salutes this stunning effort and equally stunning body of work.


A giantess emerges from a river in a ballgown made from the garbage found on the beaches.


A monster rises from Hann Bay in a haute couture costume made from discarded plastic and debris. This once pristine shore is now littered with animal carcasses, offal, bones and blood remains from a nearby slaughterhouse.


Monteiro calls this model Gaia–the ancient Earth Mother. She emerges from a mountain of garbage and looks over what was once a green marshland and animal sanctuary.

The Ripple Effect


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Maureen McQuillan’s elegant photograms are based on wave patterns.

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The artist recently posted this image of a landfill in Brooklyn where the tarpaulins made wave patterns like the waves in her drawings, paintings and photographs.

The Trashman and his Faithful Companion have been following the inventive photographs and paintings of Maureen McQuillan for several decades. Maureen is one of the few artist-friends who is media savvy. Hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t post something actually worth knowing on Facebook. So naturally Trashman noticed a recent post–just a simple image of a landfill in Brooklyn that is undoubtedly about to be reincarnated as a ski slope in the mountainous region of Williamsburg. The ripples created by sanitation workers to cover garbage in a dump have an uncanny resemblance to the ripples McQuillan creates in her engaging, mysterious work. There’s a trash-treasure irony in this, which Trashman can’t quite  fuss out. It’s there somewhere…Until he finds it, he and Faithful Companion will continue to be amazed by the infinite patterns and possibilities in McQuillan’s dynamic creations.

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After working in black and white for many years, McQuillan now explores color.

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More of McQuillan’s work can be seen at McKensie Fine Art gallery in Manhattan.



Artist of the Week: Paul Bulteel


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Industrial polyurethane trim that will be repurposed for protective packaging, acoustic insulation, and other applications.

Trashman and his Faithful Companion were perusing the cartoons in The New Yorker magazine the other day when he–they–whatever…came across a blip about recycling, featuring Paul Bulteel’s stunning photographs of cast-off materials in different stages of industrial re-processing. That’s when stuff is unmushed from other stuff–when the tons of plastic is separated from the tons of glass is separated from the tons of paper is separated from the tons of metal that are tossed away every day. Bulteel is from Belgium, a country that recycles more than 80 percent of its waste, compared to 20 percent in the United States.  As the artist notes in his new book “Cycle and Recycle”, in 2050 the trash in the ocean will weigh more than the fish.  “Trash for thought,”as Faithful Companion would say, and does.

Most art about trash is depressing and grim, tinged with predictions of imminent catastrophe. Bulteel’s photographs are simply gorgeous. Yes, they conveniently eliminate the reality of recycling–the smells, the noise, the grit and goo–focusing instead on aesthetics. His emphasis on the formal beauty that can be found at dumps, landfills and metal reclamation centers does more to encourage recycling and conservation than anything the Trashman has encountered in a long time. You just want to do it–to make the world as enticing as these works of art. Bulteel seems to say you can, just by putting out your recycle pail for that weekly pick up.

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Shards of bottles that will be melted and then formed into new bottles.

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Bales of polypropylene waste, a by-product of the carpet industry. The material will be used to create felt products such as car mats and animal beds.

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Indoor composting of organic waste


Just Add Water…



Swoon and her artist friends created this raft for Swimming Cities of Serenissima

Trashman and his Faithful Companion attended an art exhibit recently featuring a wheat paste mural by Swoon. She’s having a moment these days. Like most young emerging artist, she’s multi-disciplinary. Painting, prints, performance, film, photography–you name it, she’s done it. Her forte is collaborative projects that bring artists, activists and ordinary citizens together in ways that combine art and ecological awareness. In 2009, she headed up Swimming Cities of Serenissima. She and her crew created a make-shift raft from containers of New York City garbage and sailed it from Slovenia to Italy, just in time for the Venice Biennale. All of her work focuses on creative re-use of castoffs, including abandoned cities. She hosts Transformazium, an artist cooperative in Pennsylvania that is a laboratory for her engaging ideas. How can the Trashman not applaud her? He can’t.

“Wait, ” said Faithful Companion. “Those double negatives hurt my head. Try the accolades again.” And so he will: Trashman applauds her.

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Caledonia Curry, aka Swoon, creates wheat paste murals and installs them in out-of-the-way places in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They are referred to as “the secrets.”


Not since Gericault’s Medusa has a raft been so charged with social critique. Swoon and her crew sailed into Manhattan in their boat made of repurposed New York City garbage.