AMBER WAVES OF…PLASTIC
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.
THE LATEST IN TRASH FASHION
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. He has crafted a message for the entire world.
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.
MAUREEN MCQUILLAN CONNECTS THE…WAVES
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.
THE CYCLE OF RECYCLE
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.
GARBAGE PLUS ART = AWARENESS
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.
RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR
Angels Trashman heard on high, Sweetly singing in the sky…”Now that you have spent the cash, It’s time to think about the trash…”
Trashman and his Faithful Companion took their daily litter walk yesterday, and couldn’t help but notice all the colorful bags full of holiday trash on neighborhood streets. This year, more than ever, all that discarded wrapping and ribbon, tissue and packing peanuts, seemed to be placed for garbage pickup in a way that was almost–dare Trashman say it?–neat. “Everyone knows when the politics get dirtier, the streets get cleaner,” opined Faithful Companion. Smugly.
Trashman doesn’t think that observation is a scientific fact, but he wonders if Faithful Companion is on to something. Ah, sweet synchronicity. Your mysteries abound.
IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The Trashman and Faithful Companion visited the Dan Flavin permanent installation at the DIA site in Bridgehampton two days before Christmas. He is one of Trashman’s favorite artists because, to cut to the chase, his work isn’t messy. In fact, in Trashman’s mind, his restrained sculptures are the distillation of everything that isn’t trash. Flavin’s work taps into Minimilism, a genre that depends on perfection; only a handful of artists manage to achieve it. A chip on a Donald Judd surface, an errant shadow on a Rothko painting, a stray squiggle on an Ellsworth Kelly drawing–and poof, it’s all over. The magic of the sublimely faultless can vanish in an instant, undermined by accident, by aging, by that proverbial hair out of place. Trash, on the other hand, begins as fault and flaw. It is defacement no matter where it is found. It is anti-perfection. Trash is a slap in the face of everything that aspires to beauty. “You’re hyperventillating,” warned Faithful Companion in response to Trashman’s increasingly intense musings in the galleries. “Just relax and appreciate what’s in front of you.”
So Trashman did. He photographed this early Flavin piece–aptly titled “untitled”–with his cell. He was chagrined that he left the big-gun cameras at home. But when he and Faithful Companion retrieved the image later in the day, his low resolution iphone had somehow refracted the light and shifted the color to produce a Christmas miracle. Ok. Not exactly one of those Fatima or curing-the-lepers miracles. But a great seasonal greeting by a great artist for all seasons. Enjoy.