Becoming a little obsessed with the phenomena of waste in contemporary art has left me vulnerable to discovering just how many other people share something of this obsession.  This realisation doesn’t help me write or plan my thesis one bit and I’ve had to make the uncomfortable decision not to try and give an exhaustive account of all the different ways that objects of waste have been used in sculpture. (Lea Vergine’s When Trash Becomes Art attempts this, giving particular emphasis to European and North American artists of the twentieth century.)  I hope my analysis of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion does enough for me to pass my viva but these close readings offer little comfort when I think of all the fascinating and diverse work being done now. So, I hope to update what follows on a regular basis; whenever I come across a contemporary artist using waste in a striking or unusual way:

Lara Almarcegui

Lara Almarcegui was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1972 and now lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Building archives of the transient, Almarcegui collects historical, geographic, ecological, and sociological data about vacant areas in the urban spaces. She says about her work, “one wasteland has very different characteristics from the next. I try to present each site in as much detail as I can, zoom in a lot, try to present the uniqueness of each site.”

Lara Almarcegui, Guide to Ruined Buildings in The Netherlands XIX-XXI Century (2008)

Cutting across her Guides to European and North American wastelands, Almarcegui also looks to the materials of construction and destruction, to the substance of rubble. In her current solo show at Secession, Austria, she has piled the necessary quantities of concrete, wood, terrazzo, brick, mortar, glass, plaster, polystyrene, and steel that were needed for the construction of the Secession exhibition space.


Lara Almarcegui, installation view: Construction Rubble of Secession’s Main Hall (2010). Photo: Wolfgang Thaler

These construction materials are heaped together like spices at a market and all are products of recycling processes. They come to evoke both the future and past uses of these objects as well as the future and past uses of the exhibition space. And operating and anticipating a continuum between making and discarding, it seems to me that Almarcegui’s work unearths the etymological root of the work ‘material’, from the Latin materia: “timber roughly squared off for future construction” (see Michel Serres, Rome p. 43). That is to say, her material feels to have a for-ness even when it is ruinous. This point might lead us on to a little quixotic quotation from Jacques Derrida, who observed that “At the origin comes ruin; ruin comes to the origin, it is what first comes and happens to the origin, in the beginning” (Memoirs of the Blind, 65). I like how Almarcegui’s Guides and installations are works that end with beginnings and discover the beginning in the end. Whether or not this is the substance of ‘deconstruction’ is, perhaps, a different matter.

Kathy Taylor

Closer to home. I first discovered Kathy Taylor’s work at the artist’s studios in Wandsworth, London. Having seen a friend on the upper floor of Collective Studios we were greeted by this at the door; snapped with the camera on my mobile telephone:

Kathy Taylor, Quench (2010)

The low quality of my photography actually exaggerates an effect that I think Taylor wants to put to work – that it isn’t immediately obvious that the work is constructed from thousands of used teabags. Falling from a vent, this vine-like construction presents a constellation of national self-description, international finance, caffeinated ritual, European trade and expansionism. It also smells of tea. The work first appeared earlier this year in a collaborative exhibition with Margret Duston.

Kathy Taylor and Margret Duston, Quench (2010). Used teabags, cotton & wire framework (10,000 plus used teabags were donated by local residents).

See Kathy Taylor’s website for more details.


Peter Buggenhout

Born 1963 in Dendermonde, Belgium, Peter Buggenhout’s assemblages are really quite odd. This strangeness is largely born out of the waste, household dust, animal hair, blood and intestines that are his source materials. Intricate yet monolithic, his sculptures are both abject and calmly composed; oscillating between the catastrophic remainders of bizarre or subterranean crimes, and a solemn and delicate orderliness.

Peter Buggenhout, TBL, TBL (The Blind Leading The Blind) #2, (2004). Mixed media, stof (h) 95 x (w) 64 x (d) 99 cm

In his series The Blind Leading the Blind, Buggenhout assembles pieces of waste and covers them with thick layers of household dust. Another series of wall-based sculptures entitled Gorgo is made of waste textiles, horse hair and black animal blood. A third series, Mount Ventoux, is formed out of bleached animal intestines stretched over polymorphous shapes of polyurethane foam.

Peter Buggenhout, Gorgo #4 (2005). Blood, pigment, iron, wood, paper, glass. 83 x 148 x 92 cm

Anselm Kiefer

Kiefer was born in Donaueschingen, Germany in 1945. He now lives and works in Provence, France. Once a student of Joseph Beuys, Kiefer shares Beuys’ interest in mixing, combining and confusing unusual objects with great texture and visual complexity. His huge variety of materials – oil paint, dirt, lead, models, photographs, woodcuts, sand, straw – are made to occupy a compelling third space between painting and sculpture. He once said, “All that artists do is to reorganise remnants.” And, in the second part of this BBC ‘Arena’ documentary, Kiefer compares the position of the artist to that of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History’; standing before a chaotic and ever growing heap of ruin.

More to follow…


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