GOING THE DISTANCE
Among other things to numerous to mention, The Trashman is an expert on trains. Not model trains, or toy trains, but real trains. He and Faithful Companion have visited most of the major rail systems in the world, including Istanbul, Budapest, Russia, and of course, the United States. The one thing all trains have in common is trash. Everyday hundreds of laborers in the global universe spend thousands of hours picking up tons of garbage left behind by slothful passengers. Only Singapore railroads and subways are trash-free, and that’s because the punishment for littering in that country is public flogging–something Faithful considers entre nous “a good idea.”
And where does all that trash go? The irony isn’t lost on Trashman that the garbage removed from trains is usually placed on other trains for transport to landfills. It’s an eternal cycle: trash in trains, trash out of trains, trash in trains. The cycle could end so easily if…well, you know,…if people just stopped littering. Until then, as the Trashman says, things are picking up.
CINDY PEASE ROE CREATES VALENTINES FROM TRASH
The Trashman and his Faithful Companion spend many hours walking Fire Island beaches and picking up trash–mostly remnants of exuberant cocktail parties and assorted frolics. He is not clever enough to think of any purpose for garbage other than the garbage can. True, once upon a time the Trashman turned an empty Chianti bottle into a candle-holder, but Faithful Companion dismissed his efforts as derivative. His creative impulse was forever crushed.
Cindy Pease Roe, an artist from Greenport, Long Island, has managed to do exactly what the Trashman could not. She turns debris she collects from our shores into colorful sculptures of marine life and endangered species. In February, she will expand her repertoire to include valentines made of trash. Happily, she will share her skills with Long Islanders at a special family celebration on February 9th at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Information and sign-ups are available on the Museum website: Parrishart.org. See you there.
YUKEN TERUYA’S HAPPY MEALS
The Trashman understands the irresistible pull of the Big Mac, the Whopper and the Quarter-Pounder. Once a year, he and Faithful Companion stage their own personal Fast Food Olympics in which they wolf down samples from every food chain within 20 miles. And the Gold always goes to McDonald’s. But take-away means throw-away, and that means inevitable trash…unless Yuken Teruya finds it first.
Teruya is a Japanese artist who creates miniature universes from the packaging we leave behind: paper towel dowels, boxes from luxury goods and, yes, McDonald’s bags and Happy Meal containers.
Teruya uses traditional craft techniques to turn trash into subtle meditations on sources and origins. To make his McDonald’s diorama, he cut a tree from the side of a McDonald’s paper bag, then pushed the tree back inside the container. The container became a stage, and the tree became the front and center player. “I get it, ” said Faithful when she spied a small Teruya sculpture at an open house event last weekend at Elizabeth Foundation where the artist has a studio. “The McDonald’s bag is made of paper…and paper comes from trees…and now the tree is made of paper and inside the bag.” Yes. That. Is. Correct. You gotta love Faithful. And Trashman does.
THE WORLD OF SHIH CHIEH HUANG
When the Trashman and Faithful Companion first saw an installation by Shih Chieh Huang, they didn’t know what they were looking at. It was all so…impressive. So Trashman was surprised to learn that everything this Taiwanese artist uses is upcycled, as they say in environment-speak. That means the work is made of stuff that ordinarily ends up in landfills. In a recent TED Talk, Huang described his childhood fascination with taking things apart and putting them together in unexpected ways. Back then, his usual target was his brother’s toys and his parents closets. Fortunately, they were also his first fans. Now he has a world-wide audience
In 2007, the Smithsonian Institute gave Huang a grant to study bio-luminescence in marine environments, and he quickly learned that plastic in oceans is the number one threat to sea life. His fascination and concern for glowing sea creatures became the foundation of his art. Today everything he makes is out of garbage bags, plastic tubing, LED lights and household electronics. And nothing gets thrown away.
The Trashman salutes him.
“Ahoy, Matey…I spy plastic,” said Faithful Companion in full-blown nautical mode, as she and the Trashman walked along the not-so-pristine sands of Fire Island. Their recent vacation was awash in litter. Big waves and small waves brought in daily deposits of everything from party balloons to water bottles. Scientists speculate that in the not so distant future there will be more garbage than water in our oceans. Scary.
The increasing amounts of trash in our waterways got the Trashman thinking about waves. For centuries artists and philosophers have been fascinated with this force of nature–an eternal motion that is ever constant and ever changing. Heraclitus, that canny Greek, got it right: “No man steps in a river twice.” Or a wave… Trashman thinks the existential puzzle inherent in any contemplation of waves recedes in the presence of their sheer beauty. It’s summer, after all… So here are a few of his favorite waves. Without the plastic.
HOKUSAI’S GREAT WAVE
J.M.W. TURNER’S SHIP IN STORM
CLIFFORD ROSS’S HURRICANE SERIES
ZARIA FORMAN’S HAND-MADE WAVES
BLAKER AND DESOMMA’S GLASS WAVES
JEAN SHIN’S SOUND WAVES
ROSS’S LED MOTION COMMOTION
…AND BARELY A RIPPLE
The Trashman seldom passes on posting from other sources, but this recent story on Hyperallergic’s webpage is an exception. The lengthy post describes the one-man vision of New York City garbageman Nelson Molina, who has created a Museum of Trash in an East Harlem sanitation garage. The Museum isn’t really open to the public, but those in the know can occasionally visit more than 30 years worth of stuff people throw out on collection day. Odd odds-and-ends, for sure.
Molina reminds us that much of what we know about the past comes from our encounters with trash. Amphora from ancient Greece, pottery from the pre-historic Nok culture in Africa, even the chubby little Venus of Willendorf—these are all things people buried or discarded. Trashman and his Faithful Companion can’t help but wonder what future archaeologists will make of a giant plastic Santa Claus statue. Stay tuned.
LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
The Trashman is not a natty dresser, but Faithful Companion is a fashionista with a twist: she hasn’t thrown anything in her wardrobe away–from the time she was 12. Hard to believe, yet true. Because of his beloved’s quirk–let’s not call it hoarding–the Trashman has never given much thought to the discarded clothing in landfills. But he, and thee, should. Every year, 15 million tons of fabric end up as solid waste in the United States alone. The number just keeps climbing as the clothing industry develops cheaper and cheaper ways to churn out throw-away apparel. Textile manufacturing is the second most polluting industry in the world because it relies on toxic chemicals and carbon emission. Oil, of course, leads the way.
Fortunately, many minds are addressing the problem. Clothing manufacturers are going green, not just because it’s a color an the pantone scale. And artists by the hundreds are recycling used fabric into amazing wearable art, accessories and household goods. The Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design in Manhattan has a must-see show highlighting the best of the best, and explaining exactly what happens to all those torn t-shirts we put in clothing bins. Check it out before the end of April.
Fashion wasn’t always such a gluttonous tribute to excess. Many cultures developed traditional ways to reuse old clothes and scrap cloth, including the now famous Gees Bend African American quilters in South Caroliina. Waste not, want not has never been truer.