A Short Documentary Explores the Life of the ‘Artifact Artist’ Who’s Been Excavating New York City’s Trash for Decades
Descending into old privies, scouring landfills, and sneaking onto construction sites in the middle of the night are habitual activities for urban archaeologist Scott Jordan. For nearly five decades, he’s been excavating the trash and forgotten artifacts buried deep underneath New York City’s residential areas and fast-growing developments. His findings are diverse and revealing of the area’s past, offering a glimpse into the consumption habits and lifestyles of previous generations that date back to the 18th Century.
A new documentary produced by Kaleidoscope Pictures chronicles Jordan’s lifelong practice that involves digging and uncovering items that he then transforms into new artworks. Dubbed “The Artifact Artist,” the short film by the same name follows the archaeologist and historian as he pulls glass bottles, Civil War-era garments, and small toys from the earth. While Jordan cleans and restores much of the pottery and well-preserved items, he utilizes the rest to create jewelry and assembled, sculptural works that nestle into shadowboxes, which he then sells at flea markets.
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For his multiyear project titled “The Prophecy,” Belgian-Beninese photographer Fabrice Monteiro confronts global issues of ecological devastation. The striking images in the project combine haute couture, spiritual figures, and staged scenes of pollution and decimation.
Made in collaboration with Senegalese fashion designer Doulsy and set primarily in Africa, the series took Monteiro two years to complete. Models representing the children of the Earth Goddess Gaia (known as djinn) are dressed in costumes fashioned to look like the environmental ruin and refuse that surrounds them. Consumer debris like fishing nets and plastic bags form elaborate gowns, headdresses, and garbage accessories that anchor the djinn to the trashed landscapes. All thirteen photographs in the series are currently being shown together for the first time in the United States at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin.
The exhibition was organized to coincide with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 18-month “Interrogating the Plantationocene” Sawyer Seminar. James Wehn, the Van Vleck Curator of Works on Paper at the museum, says that Chazen director Amy Gillain and Professors at the university selected Monteiro’s project “for the compelling way in which the photographs provoke critical conversations about issues central to the seminar.” The course runs through May 2020, while the exhibition of Monteiro’s photographs will end on January 5, 2020.
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A Look Inside the 45,000-Piece Collection of Trashed Treasures Curated by Sanitation Worker Nelson Molina
If, like me, you live in New York City, you’re confronted on the daily with mounds of trash on the sidewalk. While the appliances, antique furniture, clothing, and houseplants are a passing novelty for pedestrians such as myself, for Nelson Molina, the trash was his daily focus for 34 years. The veteran New York Sanitation worker, who retired in 2015 from his East Harlem route, has collected over 45,000 items of interest, all culled from his professional immersion in what New Yorkers discard.
His curatorial efforts have been widely chronicled over the years, including a 2012 profile in The New York Times, and particularly at inflection points when the collection’s future is uncertain. A new short documentary film by director Nicholas Heller meets up with the contagiously enthusiastic Molina for a look inside his curatorial process and the present state of the collection. There is currently a fundraising effort to create a permanent home for Molina’s ‘Treasures in the Trash,’ which you can contribute to here. If you’re interested in more anthropological trash projects, check out Jenny Odell’s Bureau of Suspended Objects, an archive created out of Odell’s time as an artist in residence at a San Francisco dump.
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Every year more than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans. This anxiety, coupled with fears of a dramatic decline in insect populations and a global climate crisis, fuel the assemblage-based works of Thomas Deininger (previously). In a new short film by gnarly bay, clips of Deininger in his studio are supercut with footage showing the many ways that plastic has laid damage to our world’s sea creatures and environment. It is these bits of mindlessly discarded plastic that the Bristol, Rhode Island-based artist uses to create his sculptural optical illusions—which are often of the exact same animals and insects that the plastic threatens. You can see more of Deininger’s three-dimensional works built from found objects on Instagram.
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Mr. Trash Wheel, a floating mechanism with large round eyes affixed to its hood, was installed on a tributary leading to the Baltimore Harbor in 2014. Since then, the trash-scooping object has intercepted 638,594 plastic bags, 1,000,000 styrofoam containers, 150 miles of cigarette butts, and one ball python. Using the power of the sun, the semi-autonomous machine rakes litter out of the water and up a slow but sturdy conveyer belt. The belt is strong enough to hoist mattresses, trees, and kegs from the water and into a dumpster located on a separate barge for recycling and disposal.
The device was created by sailor and engineer John Kellett who watched debris build up around Baltimore’s waterfront for over twenty years. Mr. Trash Wheel has helped lead to Maryland’s statewide ban on Styrofoam food containers (a first in the country), partly because of a loyal Twitter following by local fans who are witness to the devastating amount of trash intercepted each day.
Although Kellett plans on installing trash wheels in other cities across the US including California, New York, and Hawaii, and internationally, he had also focused on adding more trash-eating power to his local harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel now has two cousin interceptors named Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel who have equally cartoonish eyes attached to the front of their wide-mouthed exteriors. You can watch Mr. Trash Wheel digest its millionth pound of trash in the video below, and view a live stream of real time waste consumption on its website. (via WBUR)
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Photographer Mandy Barker creates deceptively eye-catching images to document the pandemic of plastic debris in the world’s waterways. Barker, who is based in Leeds, UK, works closely with scientists to collect trash from our oceans and beaches on the edges of nearly every continent. One research expedition covered the debris field (stretching to Hawaii) that resulted from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and earthquake; she has also explored the Inner Hebrides in Scotland with Greenpeace.
Barker manipulates her findings in Photoshop, mimicking the manner in which ocean water holds these objects in suspension. Swirls of colors and patterns draw in the viewer’s eye, only to realize that these visually appealing compositions consist of garbage that animals have attempted to chew, plastic pellets, tangles of fishing line, and water-logged soccer balls. The artist describes her work in a statement on her website:
The aim of my work is to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction along with the subsequent message of awareness. The research process is a vital part of my development as the images I make are based on scientific fact which is essential to the integrity of my work.
Barker is currently a recipient of a 2018 National Geographic Society grant. Her work is on display through April 22nd at Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art, at Photo London Art Fair in May 2018, at the Triennial of Photography in Hamburg in June, 2018, and at BredaPhoto in The Netherlands in September 2018. The artist’s book, Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, was named one of the ten best books of 2017 by Smithsonian. You can see more of Barker’s photographs on her website as well as on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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Editor's Picks: Art
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.