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I recently collaborated with my partner, Nicole Morris, on a new piece called: “Consumption: an installation exploring waste”. This dynamic project put trash into the heart of downtown Santa Fe, NM by mingling it with the art scene right off the Plaza!
One summer afternoon in 2011, Nicole and I were driving amidst beautiful brown and green mesas blanketed by amazing azure skies while I was telling her about a new call for artists that I had come across earlier that day. The invitation put out by New Mexico Arts encouraged artists to venture beyond their normal body of work and take risks by creating a space-specific installation, which really peaked my interest. We threw around a few ideas and, as the sun began to set mixing its golden light with the deepening blue, a collaboration was born.
We responded to the call with many other applicants and we were honored to be one of the chosen! Nicole and I designed a project that had two outcomes: create an installation so beautiful and pleasing that one could hardly believe it was reused trash; and in the process of gathering the objects for the installation, provide a reuse study for the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency. (To learn more about the project read the artists statement.) Our desires were to create a work of art, to solicit creative thinking and education, and to give back something to the lovely community that we feel blessed to be a part of.
My interest in working with garbage is obvious to those of you that are familiar with my 20 year background in recycling and my Recycle Runway collection of couture fashion sculptures made from trash. Nicole had recently finished a course called Climate Masters, offered at that time by the State of New Mexico’s Environment Department, which fed her life-long commitment to environmental conservation. For the project, she also drew from her background in photography and design. It was a great partnership!
Our goal with this installation is to engage people in thinking about their relationship to the items we purchase, bring into our homes and casually throw away. Beyond that we hope viewers will consider the environmental impact with each step of this “cradle-to-grave” process.
Though many of the materials we needed to install the show came from the trash (cleaning agents, paint, even a shop-vac) we did have to buy some new supplies. It was really interesting to go shopping after having just been at the transfer station and seen similar items thrown away. It made us ask the question, “what gives items value?”
- Is an item valuable because it is presented as new in a store?
- Does something lose its value when we have grown tired of it, no longer need it, or find it has a scuff?
- Does an object have no value once it is in the trash – even though it could be still usable or even brand new?
- How does the value of an item change when we are in a hurry and the quickest option is to throw it away?
- Do the value of objects increase or decrease after the death of a loved one?
These questions of value are what inspired us to create the “Environmental Price Tags” that are attached to many of the objects in the show. The price tags were meant to assist the viewer to delve into even deeper considerations such as:
- Would the value we place on an item change if we knew it would take more than one million years to break down in the landfill, or that tons of chemicals polluted the air, water and soil in the process of making it?
- Or perhaps the value would diminish if we knew that when we unpacked it in our home it would “off-gas”, releasing harmful chemicals that would contribute to the toxic load in our families’ and in our own bodies.
Balancing these conceptual ideas with the aesthetics in the show was sometimes a tricky process; sometimes the concept would dictate certain choices. For example at one point we considered making the seven suitcases we found into a cohesive sculptural element by painting them all one color. But we decided not to because in the end it would have rendered them unusable after the show and ultimately, in the process of painting them, it would have released more volatile organic compounds into the air.
We were pleased to have these various issues covered in two stories about the show, one in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Pasatiempo and the other on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal North’s Sunday edition.
The opening for the installation was an important part of the project. Many of Santa Fe’s most knowledgeable people in waste reduction, sustainability and alternative energy were in attendance opening night. We asked those we knew if they would be willing to wear a name tag that said “Ask the Expert” and answer people’s questions on these topics. It was fun eavesdropping on some of these conversations!
The opening was also a waste free event. By providing a large waste can for recycling and a medium waste can for composting, at the end of the evening, they were full and the 5 inch tall garbage can was empty!
After the show comes down from the Centennial Project Space, we hope to reinstall it around the region to provide further educational opportunities. Several learning institutions in Santa Fe and White Rock have expressed an interest in hosting the installation!
If you live in Santa Fe and want to see the installation, it will be on display through Friday May 11, 2012 at the The New Mexico Arts Centennial Project Space located at 54 1/2 East San Francisco Street, Suite 2 on the Santa Fe Plaza above the Haagen-Dazs, Monday – Friday 10AM – 5 PM. Gallery number: 505.699.4914 (call first).
Lastly, we want to thank the following organizations and individuals for making this project possible.
- The Art in Public Places Program of the State of New Mexico, Department of Cultural Affairs for funding this project
- Randall Kippenbrock, Executive Director of Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency for facilitating this projects collaboration with the Agency
- Mike Smith, Lisa Merrill, Katherine Mortimer and the staff at BuRTT for helping to conduct the reuse studies
- Samantha Brody and Ariel Harrison for helping with painting, sanding and sewing
- Regina Wheeler, Jesse Just (New Mexico Recycling Coalition) for consulting on the project
- Eileen Braziel of Eileen Braziel Art Advisers for hosting the installation
- Brian Bylenok and Carol Dayton for loaning the air mattress