Consumption: an installation exploring waste
By Nancy Judd and Nicole Morris
Consuming…all consumed…these words can bring up feelings of avarice and obsession. Consumption, the dictionary defines this word as: the act of consuming, as by use, decay or destruction. What does it mean to buy and throw away blindly with no regard to the resources behind the production of things? And what is the legacy we leave to our children and our futures with the creation of garbage and the depletion of resources?
This installation was a twofold project with two purposes; though, at first glance, it might simply look like a child’s room decorated with both interesting furnishings and surprisingly reused items. But scratch under the surface and you will find many more layers of curiosity and significance.
Everything in this room came from the trash!
The project was conceived initially as an art project that would show what people buy and then throw away so fleetingly when, in reality, this trash is still useful. In fact, our primary purpose was to trick the viewer’s senses by having them step into a beautifully designed room only to have them discover that it all came from the garbage. We both, however, feel very strongly about environmental education and eventually conceived of the “Environmental Price Tags” as our secondary purpose– a way of engaging the viewer in learning about the multitude of environmental issues associated with consumption.
Next we had to figure out how we’d get the primary project, the installation, from the trash. Nancy served on a Santa Fe Solid Waste Advisory Committee in 2010 that created the Solid Waste Plan passed by the Santa Fe City and County governing bodies. One of the recommendations of the Committee was to create a reuse center at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station (BuRRT). National studies have shown that reuse is one of the best ways that we can both conserve resources and reduce trash.
Study to assist development of a possible reuse center at BuRRT.
Thus began our secondary project! The items in this installation were gathered during a reuse study at the Transfer Station. We partnered with the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency, a joint entity of the City and County, which manages BuRRT. Over the last nine months we worked with City and County staff to conduct reuse studies that document the amounts and types of waste that enter the Transfer Station for disposal but have the possibility of being reused. We also documented items that could not be reused. We hope that this survey will provide the Agency with information that can be utilized in planning a reuse center at BuRRT.
We have one more survey to do this spring, however the numbers below reflect the average percent of each category of material delivered for disposal that was in “mint condition” (ready to use after being cleaned):
- 16% of Household Items
- 2% of Office Furniture
- 33% of Building Materials
- 21% of Landscaping Items
- 36% of Other Items
Note: As you can see from our installation, as artists we saw many items that that were not in the official study’s “mint condition” category, but that were still very usable!
There is no such thing as waste, only waste resources.
Considering how many people recycle today, one would be surprised at what still goes into the landfill. New Mexico’s recycling rate is 16%, this means that 84% of our garbage is buried in the landfill and will outlive us for thousands of years. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80% of what we throw away can be recycled and reused. Not only are we creating landmasses of trash, but we are also using an unsustainable amount of resources to fuel the consumption that creates so much waste.
Our intention with this installation is to encourage people to look at the things we throw away with new eyes, so that next time, they may consider alternatives such as repair, reuse, repurposing or recycling.
Treasuring Santa Fe
This project is funded through the Art in Public Places Program of the State of New Mexico, Department of Cultural Affairs. The New Mexico Arts Centennial Project Space seeks to celebrate New Mexico’s centennial with unique visions of the state’s history and the legacy of its people from a contemporary perspective.
We believe that celebrating the fourth centennial needs to include consideration of our environmental impact on our community. It is important to consider what effect our disposable society and over consumption is having locally on Santa Fe. What do we want our treasured community to look like in the NEXT 400 years? With this installation we want to inspire the creativity in all of us to care for this beautiful place we call home.
- 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 Advisors
for hosting the installation
- Brian Bylenok and Carol Dayton
for loaning the air mattress