This summer (2017) while visiting family in Vermont I placed a truck load of garbage in the lush green forest. I call it art. Let me explain.
In preface, my intention with an artwork is always to have it speak for itself. My goal in writing this is not to supplant the art but to further process my own thoughts about the project and to share a map of my inspiration and process.
In the summer of 2016 I made work in reaction to the trash I found accumulated in the southern California desert. Earlier this year my exhibition Medium, in its investigation of the evolution of technologies, looked closely at the production of electronic waste. Both projects have grown my frustration with an ill-conceived rampant consumer culture. This summer I was confronted with this culture again; this time while visiting my childhood home in Vermont.
Walking down the creaky unfinished steps into my mother’s basement I descended into a thick layer of stuff stacked and strewn across the floor. Over the years my typical reaction to this hoarding has been avoidance, since the alternative is arguing about the value of owning a VHS collection without a VHS player. So I simply ignore it; a tried and true method of not freaking out during the holidays. However, this visit was different and I felt the need to confront the clutter and take some positive action.
It isn‘t as if my parents consume more than average, in fact my guess is it is quite the opposite, but they don’t get rid of things. So each relatively inoffensive old product piles up. As I looked through all the stuff, a conflict arose in my mind; I recognized much of it from my childhood. Many of the items were at one time or another dear to me while some were just fun to have around. Overall, the collection of stuff contributed to an imaginative childhood filled with many colors, forms, and mechanisms.
Exploring this new found value I found that I was empathetic to these objects. I felt nostalgic and indebted to them in a way. They are part of my personal cocoon of development and to a great extent, being mass produced objects, they are a snap shot of a collective cultural cocoon as well. In an effort to digest this conflict which cut so deeply into the heart of my own culture I decided to feed some of the items through a process of artistic transformation. I decided to value them again.
In order to make this transformation I knew that I must free the items from the basement and bring them into the world. I selected items for meaning and durability and then set out into the surrounding wilderness to find a suitable site. I chose the stump of a large pine tree my father had cut down for firewood. The stump had great utility as a base and I liked the idea of the products being where the tree used to be. The conjured image of replacement is powerful. All of our products come from the earth, cut down, mined, extracted, and processed into the things we consume. The idea of returning the products to be among the trees felt like an attempt to complete some twisted hopeful loop that we can put it back.
Whether a golf club, a plastic lightsaber, or a laundry basket, the items each carry a considerable load of eye catching marketable or utilitarian cultural imagery. Subverting the visual noise by painting the objects white allowed me to use their various geometries as parts of an assembled whole. This reduction of product into form seemed to pull the objects out of existence a bit. Individually it transformed each product into an idea of the product and collectively it unified the objects into a single form. While in close proximity to the piece, the items are identifiable but from a distance the forms merge into a cohesive whole that among actual trees stands out, not as an imposter, but as a materialization of another kind of natural growth.
Ultimately the sculpture doesn’t strike a definitive conclusion about mass consumer culture. It does, however, transform the products back into ideas, cleansing them of the term junk and imbuing them with new meaning as form. Its very existence is a monument to excess but also to the wonder of imagination. In taking action in opposition to consumerism not only did I provide some art therapy for myself but I created a counter narrative to the typical cycle of production - consumption - waste.