From Waste to Wonder

The "Pictures of Garbage" series by Vik Munez is a project featuring the world’s largest garbage dump (called Jardim Gramacho), and the people who live in it. The project was actually turned into an award winning documentary by director Lucy Walker called “Waste land” (2010). You can watch the trailer at (I haven’t actually seen the documentary but now I am now that I discovered Vik Munez I’m excited to watch it!). Munez created the pieces by photographing the people of Rio de Janerio who live in the land fill, sketching out the image he wanted to portray on the floor of a large room, and then, with the help of locals, laid out tons of garbage to reveal the images below. The photographs of these rooms of garbage are beautiful and emotional. They also work to “unconceal” the world on multiple levels.

The photos are primarily meant to reveal the people who live and work in the garbage dump: to help tell their story. The emotions of the people portrayed by Munez reveal love, despair, hope, fear, struggle, and others. The people were actually quite involved in helping Munez create his work and, in they seemed quite excited, though initially skeptical, about the project. For these people, the process of seeing Munez create the pieces, seeing their world transformed into beauty, must have been an awesome process. Munez actually donated all of the profits from the photos back to the people who live in the dump.

The photographs also remind us how we are so far removed from the waste that we produce. We usually have no clue where it goes, what happens to it as time passes, and what impact it has on the environment and the people who have to live with it. The reflections of the people affected by the garbage dump revealed in the photos shows us that, though we feel disconnected from garbage, this is not a sustainable system. As our garbage grows more and more, the people affected by it will also grow. The photos beg viewers to start thinking about what our materialistic lives are doing to the world.

Munez unconceals the potential that the most harmful and sad things in the world have to bring good to the world. Endless and mundane disgustingness can be given form and individuality. The ugly and useless can be made beautiful and useful. The dead and decaying can be made to be emotional and full of life. The largest garbage dump in the world, usually hidden from all but the poorest of people, can be revealed to the world in an inspiring way.

From Waste to Wonder

Damient Hirst

Damien Hirst is an English artist who has become famous amidst a flurry of controversial works and scandals. He is known for placing dead animals in formaldehye as displays. One of his most recent works was a large tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde. He calls it "The physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living." What is eerie about the shark is that is so resembles its living form, suspended in time. I think that Hirst's works containing death bring an interesting point to the table. Rarely do we ever get to see something that is dead and looks living. It brings about the paradox of life and death; our inability to reconcile the two. It really points to the fact that life includes much more than the physical being, that everything we attribute to life is really contained on the inside of a person.

Hirst's work effectively stops time. It halts the natural deterioration process associated with death, and really allows something that is dead to appear living. The value in this point may be that we do so often avoid the thought of death, but what do we lose in refusing to acknowledge that our life is temporary? Does this change the way we interact with the world? It certainly does in certain spheres. Think of the issue of global warming, perhaps if humans really did live forever, there would be much more concern about finding an immediate remedy. But the attitude of many is that is truly is not an issue that will affect them, that it is something that will happen in the far off future. When it happens they will be deceased, no longer a part of the living. So we treat the earth as if it is a disposable object, something that will lose significance in 90 years when we die. Yet the earth will keep on turning, nature will keep on running. As has often been discussed in class, our time-scale is relatively insignificant.

Hirst brings to the forefront what it looks like to be dead. To be suspended, the world continuing around you but you unable to interact with it. People have become too good at ignoring death. And yet it happens every single day. And it happens in nature. What if every single tree and species that was killed by humans was preserved in formaldehyde and put in a museum? Would we be able to recognize what happens when we destroy something? That we render its life force moot.


Or perhaps the real point that should be taken from Hirst's works is that things are not invincible. We are not above death. It can and will happen to us. But every day we do so many things that could bring us every closer to death. There are so many things in our society that could cause cancer it's ridiculous, the food we eat is effectively poisoin, and we breathe in polluted air. We are playing a dangerous game but ignoring the consequences. If we were truly concerned about the end of life, whether it be the end of an animal a plant or a human, we might go about things with more caution. We might be more aware of what we put into the world and what we take from it.

Temporarily Awesome

Christo and Jeanne Claude have spent decades creating amazing works of public art.  They construct huge temporary projects in highly viewable places that are very accessible.  “The Gates” in central park is their most recent major work, and they have completed projects all over the world, and always with money raised themselves.  This blog post is largely about artists changing the way we see the world compared to large technical systems, and these artists do this by making art at enormous scale, as large as some of our greatest human structures.  The scale is both extraordinary and controversial.
    The artists claim that there is “no deeper meaning than the immediate aesthetic impact” and that they simply want to “create works of art or joy and beauty and to create new ways of seeing familiar landscapes”.  But certainly within these new ways of seeing deeper implications are seen.  I think that with some of their works covering buildings or canyons and soon the Arkansas river in Colorado they ask us to consider all of the Latourian folds that went into its original form.  They bring to mind the times, spaces, and actants that we looked over in favor of the things function.
    I think many people are initially frightened or overwhelmed by the magnitude of these projects.  They might have trouble reconciling the fact that the Reichstag, one of the larger buildings in Berlin simply disappeared one day underneath an enormous cloth.  Pieces like this that gained them huge amounts of publicity help to show us what we have been taking for granted to whole time, what we saw but never truly looked at.
    What strikes me about these works is that they are enormous but still very quiet passive works.  They allow for contemplation and enjoyment while being awe inspiring and impressive.  The passivity of their existence is in total contrast with the intense changes they have made on the landscape (Valley Curtain is a great example of this).  Through this weirdness and intensity they certainly make a point, and they are so open to interpretation there is no way I am going to try and say what it is.  It is public art, for all the people, who each saw the original landscape in a different way and will thus see the art differently.  Additionally, their temporary nature makes the impact more stunning.  These short lived projects force the viewer to take all he/she can from the work and then adjust again when the landscape goes back to its previous condition asking the question: What am I now?
    I encourage everyone to look through the photos and to go visit one of Christo’s pieces if they get a chance (Jeanne Claude passed away in 2009).  Surely the real thing is infinitely more powerful then the photo.  Truly, these pieces of art are visceral experiences more than anything.  The power of a landscape transformed can helps to alter our perception and appreciation of the normal form, and literally brings things to scale.


Using Natural Processes

Could rotting fruit be beautiful? Can sunlight create an image? Can carpet lint be something more?


Brazilian artist, Tonico Lemos Auad, attempts to answer these questions through art. Now based in London, Auad seeks to unveil what we often overlook in our everyday lives. He uses nature’s natural processes to highlight his central theme of subtle transformations. In doing so, he shows us that the daily experiences we often ignore can create art itself.


             Above is a tattooed image on a banana that has been intensified by the process of bruising. Before the banana was fully ripe, Auad created an invisible design using a pin to make tiny holes. As the banana ripened, the bruising around these lesions darkened, allowing the drawing to become more prominent. This design shows that the collaboration of human and nature, rather than human’s domination of nature, can produce something that can be considered beautiful.   

Here, Auad goes a step further by showing us that the natural processes we often considering damaging may in fact create art if we provide a proper outlet. To many traditional artists, especially painters and photographers, consider sunlight an enemy, as it can fade/destroy their artwork. However, Auad shows us that if we collaborate with sunlight, it can be used a positive process. The artwork shown above entitled “Sunset” shows different colored cards that were partly exposed to sunlight in order to purposefully fade parts of the cards, thus revealing the idea of a sunset across the cards.


Auad even creates fuzzy-looking animals that we love out of...carpet lint? With that annoying substance that we try to vacuum every week, Auad used his knowledge of how carpet lint interacts with itself and allowed it to be something more aesthetically pleasing.


In both of these examples, Auad uses normal everyday processes to change our perception of nature and its influence. Similar to the artist that McKayla describes, Auad uncovers the many possibilities of subtle transformation that these natural processes can provide if humans put more energy into revealing and provoking them, rather than masking or manipulating them. He also plays with the idea of time, as most of his art involves a significant amount of time in order for nature to transform what had previously existed.


A Living Bridge

Check out this video on Living Bridges: My grandfather just happened to send me this video in an e-mail last night with the subject line: When Humans work with Nature. The best part is that he didn’t even know I was taking this course, and that I was currently searching for alternative artistic ways of being in the world. For purposes of this post, the artists in this example are both the War-Khasis, or the tribe who create living bridges, as well as the trees and roots themselves. 
The War-Khasis tribe of Cherrapunji in Meghalaya, India discovered the ability of rubber trees, known as Ficus elastica, to produce secondary roots on upper sections of tree trunks which can be directed across rivers to grow natural bridges.  These bridges are incredibly strong and stable, stretching up to 100 feet and accommodating up to 50 people at once.  Although these bridges take ten to fifteen years to grow, they last for centuries.  The War-Khasis experience some of the world’s worst spring monsoons, creating great necessity for these long-lasting bridges. Despite these harsh living conditions, the War-Khasis value where they live and are clearly passionate about their work, as indicated in the short film.  This passion for their natural environment becomes a key factor in how they choose to live their lives and who they are as a community. They understand the implications of their work and engage in the process of building bridges for their children and children’s children.
Bridges are usually created using artificial materials, or highly manipulated natural resources to create a passage way between an obstructive natural feature, such as a river or canyon. Using unnatural materials create much more of a human-dominant relationship with nature. On the other hand, a naturally growing bridge allows humans to take a step back and examine the workings of nature; consequently, humans establish a much more understanding and perhaps equal relationship with nature. A seemingly obstructive natural environment becomes something humans can work with, rather than something they try to dominate with artificial materials.
A living bridge serves as an alternative way to establish human relationships with the natural world, an alternative way to appreciate nature’s valuable resources, and most broadly, an alternative way of being in this world. A living bridge is art in itself – useful art that reconstructs our understanding of what is possible in nature. Humans involve themselves by directing the flow of tree roots, but then allow nature to actually grow these bridges which strengthen over time.  

The work of Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson was born January 2, 1938 in Passaic, New Jersey and passed away in 1973. Smithson made a name for himself with his work, the Spiral Jetty, made in 1970. Take a look:


Spiral Jetty was constructed at Rozel Point, in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, in April of 1970. It was groundbreaking (no pun intended) because it was an earthwork. Smithson was one of the pioneers of this art form known as earthworks or land art; Smithson wanted to place his work in the land rather than situate it on the land.  Reads his website: “dissatisfied with the status quo, Smithson did not limit himself to any one form of style or art. He moved beyond modernism’s hermetic tendencies by abandoning formalism, rules and traditional art materials. Smithson’s oeuvre, as an artist and writer, defied convention and produced works that could not be easily categorized. He utilized non-traditional art materials such as language, mirrors, maps, dump trucks, abandoned quarries, hotels, contractors, and earth to produce his radical sculptures, photographs, films, and earthworks.”

One of the major themes Smithson explored was entropy. He engaged with the natural processes of decay and renewal, of chaos and order in the world around us. The two collections that highlight these themes are that of Nonsites and Earthworks.
Here are a few Nonsites works to consider: Plunge (1966), Terminal (1966), Dead Tree (1969).

Here are a few Earthworks as well: Asphalt Rundown (Rome, Italy. 1969), Glue Pour (Vancouver, Canada, 1969), Partially Buried Woodshed (Kent, Ohio, 1970).














Each of these works highlights, in some particular way, the natural processes of the world around us. Heidegger mentions that we don’t see most of the world that actually exists external to us. that the world is mostly concealed to us. We do see order and chaos, decay and renewal, but may just take it for granted, glance over it without so much as a thought. Smithson’s works remind us that we’re just as frail and impermanent as any other organic matter on this earth, that we’re just as tied to these all-powerful forces of the natural world.

Consider Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed. Here, at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio, Smithson located an abandoned woodshed and poured earth on the structure until it cracked. Smithson donated the work to Kent State University, leaving the work to be “subject to weathering, which should be considered part of the piece.” Smithson took a woodshed and unconcealed it in a different way; he moved earth, and, in effect, moved the clock forward as well. He is bringing forth possible future states of the shed, bringing into the present the inevitable and eternal effects of weathering, of decay and growth. It’s so simple and beautiful.
Smithson’s work is a reminder that there are parts of this world that lies outside of our structure. There truly is mystery in mundane things. There is no question of the magnitude of the external world; the world exceeds us. Smithson’s work, then, pulls us back to humility, pulls us back to a certain reverence for the forces of the natural world. It’s all too easy to forget our place in the grand scheme of things.



            To remove modern technology from the world, would be to remove connections. It is so ingrained in our culture, that its removal would not only effect humans socially, but psychologically. As Zane demonstrates in his blog post, people equate their interaction with technology to that of an addiction. However, the ease in which we can connect to each other in the world can also, ironically, inhibit our interactions and connectedness to each other. As Helen pointed out, cell phones can remove us from the present (i.e: participating in dinner conversation). Instead of improving relationships, technology can impair them.

            This brings us to the question that McKayla presents to us: To what extent much we change our current system in order to adapt to fewer modern technologies?

            As Will states in his blog post about first world problems, technology has become so ubiquitous in many societies that we have developed habits around them. We place so much trust in certain machines such as the treadmill and eye-glasses, that we forget what it feels like to be without them.  As Will and Katrina both touch on, we let technology control us to a certain extent. Whether it be controlling our vision with glasses or the speed at which we run via treadmills, we become habituated to these new norms. Thus, in comparison, running outside begins to feel like more work and trying to see without glasses becomes more painful (both mentally and physically, especially if one cannot see stairs!). Kristen argues that if we were to get rid of one technology, a new one would probably replace it based on history. For example, with glasses, some people have stopped wearing those and have moved to contact lenses, but they both still provide the same goal. Therefore if we were to completely abolish all technology, McKayla may be right in saying that we would have to stop focusing on small-scale changes and move to large-scale changes. Yet, as Urry points out in his text, the "tipping point is a system that seems utterly intractable now may one day just turn over and die" (p 36). With the rise in both technology fields as well as the green-movement, I too am curious where we will head from here.

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