The ‘Introduction’ of *Waste: A Philosophy of Things* Available Here

WasteWith the official UK release of Waste: A Philosophy of Things on 22nd May 2014, Bloomsbury have supplied a preview to give you an idea of the book’s ambitions. You can read the Introduction here.

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About Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

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“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.FbBc2Y1X.dpuf“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Reviews “This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

Table Of Contents

Acknowledgements
List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
Part I: Collecting Waste
2. Narrating the Event of Waste
3. Archaeologies of Waste
Part II: Reading Waste
4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Part III: Building Ruins
6. Ruins Past
7. Ruins of the Future
8. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Reviews

“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

– See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.Sndli2r2.dpuf

Waste: A Philosophy of Things, Now Available on Amazon

Though it won’t be available for some months – provisionally scheduled for release in May 2014 – my first book, Waste: A Philosophy of Things, is now listed on Amazon for pre-order. The book will be published by Bloomsbury Academic at a price that will put it beyond the reach of most individuals but with the Waste-A Philosophy of Thingshope that institutions may buy enough copies for a paperback edition to be financially viable. Having worked in academic publishing, helping others to get their work published, I am delighted that I’ll be putting out something of my own. And, though my attention is now directed to other projects, my work on waste is still a source of interest to me and, I hope, not yet redundant by all that has been written and published on the subject since I concluded my research.

Things are changing in publishing and, though I am interested in open culture and, to an extent, the open source publishing models pioneered online, I am still convinced that traditional, hardcopy formats (alongside digital formats), established on flexible but globally structured editorial, publicity and marketing relations, along with the modest kinds of innovation that Bloomsbury are strong on, is a better option for me, at this stage, and for this particular project. If that sounds like I have ethical issues with the academic publishing industry as a whole, well, I do, but this is a book that requires all the support of an established and well-run press of which Bloomsbury is certainly an example.

The cover image is taken sometime in 1888, I think, during the Tower’s construction. I am particularly interested in monuments as waste or as immanent objects of waste, and the temporality of this is explored in the book’s final chapters. It is not the case that all monuments ruin in the same way nor do they always resemble ruins in their construction, but the sight and site of a building being made makes use as well as future ruin possible. It is the relationship between use and waste, use as waste, use making waste, that has captivated me and made this book project so unexpectedly relevant to my current research into the use of twins in contemporary science. More on that elsewhere, for now, I’m looking to topping off the almost-not-quite-yetness of Waste, with the index and final proofs not yet ready.

The Landfill Harmonic (2014)

Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature-length documentary about a remarkable orchestra from a remote village in Paraguay, where its young musicians play with instruments made from trash:

Cateura, Paraguay is a town essentially built on top of a landfill. Garbage collectors browse the trash for sellable goods, and children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. When orchestra director Szaran and music teacher Favio set up a music program for the kids of Cateura, they soon have more students than they have instruments.

That changed when Szaran and Favio were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, now called ‘The Recycled Orchestra’.

Our film shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings.

Nore Hill Folly, West Sussex – A Note on Follies, Eyecatchers and Fabriques

On Saturday afternoon I joined some friends for a short walk about the Sussex countryside. It was a day with an extra 10 degrees on the thermometer, bright sunshine, obedient daffodils and crocuses making their salutations, and all the other rites that bring the first sight of spring.

We began in Slindon village and were soon marching across the brow of one side of a small valley and,  turning to the other side of this small dip in the land, we could see Nore Hill Folly in the near distance. To feed a little ruinlust we made our loop take in this architectural  castaway and before long we were  weaving ourselves down and along one hill and then up the other to take a closer look, passing a beagle hunt,  a phalanx of ruddy-checked riders out with their puffing ponies, the London Symphony Orchestra playing a medley of Handel, Elgar and Vaughan Williams, countless other scenes straight from the small ads of Country Life, etc.

Nore Hill Folly, near Slindon, West Sussex, UK

On closer inspection the folly is like a ruinous medieval gatehouse (of a heavy, Northern European build), with one arch intact and the other shattered. Asymmetric, it has a tower to one side and crude battlements that run horizontally from one side to the other. The odd thing about the folly is that the tower, and the arch built ‘complete’, face up the hill. This suggests that the intended way of approaching the folly is from north to south, from an elevated position above the folly itself. It is worth noting how this ‘eyecatcher’, as follies of the eighteenth-century period were sometimes known, can catch the eye both from the village to the south (as it did as we began our walk) as well as collate a view down the valley, through its decaying aperture, towards the village and the panorama beyond. But little is known about the construction, intention and history of the folly at Nore Hill. It simply remains, without every aspect of its existence reducible to deed and document. It, like many other sham ruins of its kind, produces a time of stories that makes the factual basis of this architecture of secondary importance. This is the aesthetic tradition of the folly (and I am really not satisfied with the limitations of the word ‘aesthetic’, for the reasons given below). What I’m getting at, I think, are the conditions that produce the grounds for speculation, to give a narrative architecture engineered through the distructure of a built ruin.

Nore Hill Folly, near Slindon, West Sussex, UK

Although strongly associated with the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some say that the desire to build sham ruins has a far longer history.[1] Vasari notes the interventions of Girolamo Genga, an architect of the early fifteenth century who was in the employment of the Duke of Urbino and commissioned Genga to build a palace, “a well-planned fabric, and full of apartments, colonnades, courts, loggie, fountains, and most delightful gardens, there is no Prince that passes that does not go to see it […] From the design of this same master, the Duke caused the Palace at Pesaro to be restored, and also the little park, making within it a house representing a ruin, which is a very beautiful thing to see.”[2] Genga’s building project was one that included the construction of a ruin, a visual diversion for the Duke’s visitors. It is worth noting that Genga’s ruin is approximately contemporary with Botticelli’s nativity works and this ruinous folly might be considered a secular equivalent to the temporal distinctions witnessed in those paintings. Later in the eighteenth century, spurred by Grand Tourism, the rise of the European picturesque and made manifest in both formal and irregular garden design, fabricated ruins became a common feature on the property of Europe’s fashionable elite. Writing in 1728, the writer and garden designer, Batty Langley, recommended ruins as a way to terminate avenues or vistas:

Ruins may either be painted upon Canvas, or actually built in that manner with Brick, and cover’d with Plaistering in Imitation of Stone. And since we are to build no more thereof than as much of the shell, as is next to our view, I therefore recommend their building before their painting, not only as the most durable, but least expensive (if the Painting is performed by a skilful Hand) and much more to the real Purport intended.[3]

Ruins provide a practical solution to the limitations of garden space and Langley preferred classical ruins for this role – “After the Old Roman Manner for the termination of Walks, Avenues &c.”[4] Again, the ruin is employed to resolve spatial distances with temporal distances. In the images that accompany Langley’s influential work, David Lockley’s simple etchings include mouldering structures to fill the gaps and channels created by ornate hedgerows. The effect of these ruins must have been to provide a telescopic vista, which gathers the manicured present within a theatrical past. Turned towards vantage points that would emphasise the ruin’s capacity to stand at odds with (and simultaneously within) the domestic space that surrounds it, these sham ruins serve to disclose many of the ruin’s narratological effects. The deployment of ruins in European gardens can be seen to follow the diktats of the picturesque as they were laid out by William Gilpin later in the century, “the picturesque eye is perhaps most inquisitive after the elegant relics of ancient architecture; the ruined tower, the Gothic arch, the remains of castles and abbeys. They are consecrated by time; and almost deserve the veneration we pay to the works of nature itself.”[5] Gilpin’s sense of the picturesque is deeply invested in the veneration of a past that ruins mediate. Engaging in the contrasts, transience and permanence that they suggest, ruins leave the historical to be “physically merged into the setting”, allowing ruin to become the visual index or material manifestation of time.

Folly at Hagley Hall, Worcester, built by Sanderson Miller, 1749–50. A.F. Kersting, n.d.

 As the locations reserved for sham ruins expanded beyond the formal spaces of English gardens, they became deployed across the land of the wealthy. The ruin built in the grounds of Hagley Hall provides a useful example, perched upon a hill and set apart from the main house of George Lyttelton who commissioned Sanderson Miller to build the folly in the 1750s. It is interesting to note Joseph Heely’s observations surrounding the historical effects of the structure, when he described the ruin several decades later:

Upon first glimpse of this becoming object, which adds so much dignity to the scene, one cannot resist an involuntary pause — struck with its character, the mind naturally falls into reflections, while curiosity is on the wing, to be acquainted with its history; and I make no doubt that an antiquarian like my friend, would sigh to know what era it was founded, and by whom: — what sieges is had sustained; — and would lament that hostile discord, or the iron hand of all-mouldering time, should so rapaciously destroy it.[6]

Heely’s response to the folly, by way of his anonymous and antiquarian “friend”, is an involuntarily narrative one, a response sensitive to the absent time that ruins make quasi-present. The “dignity” bestowed by Miller’s folly might owe something to the contrast gained from the strict Palladian styling of Hagley Hall. As Horace Walpole wrote to Richard Bentley in 1753, the folly has “the true rust of the baron’s wars”,[7] making a clear reference to a baronial, Catholic England felt to have been superseded by the Protestant neo-Classicalism of Lyttelton and his circle.[8] There is a broader case to be made for the preference for Gothic follies vis-à-vis the Classical, as James Howley argues, “for many advocates of the classical taste, the rival Gothic style was only acceptable in a ruined and defeated state”.[9] The ruin, in this capacity, performs precisely the same function as the ruins found in fifteenth-century paintings, affecting a severance between the time of a ‘then’ and a time of a ‘now’. Although the motivating forces might differ, the role of ruin to divide time remains consistent. The benefit of comparing the use of these ruins, in both paint and in landscape design, is that we are given a clear view of how ruin facilitates the distinction of thought and belief. It not that there is something inherent in these ideas – New Testament theology and paganism, neo-Classicism and Catholic medievalism – that makes them readily associated with the ruin, but these ideas gain their narrative distinction through the structural effects of ruins and the temporal oppositions they are made to mediate.

As eyecatchers, displays of wealth, politically and architecturally-loaded statements of style, follies provide important occurrences when images of waste have profound and explicit use. Whether real or fabricated, the application of waste in the ruinous folly provides just another reason why this thesis avoids making ‘non-use’ an intrinsic capability of things, but, instead, a reversible and contingent temporal effect. In terms of Heideggerian ‘dwelling’, the folly is spared and preserved, but only in so far as it serves an ambiguous ‘goal’, insofar as it maintains the temporal complexity of waste. Whilst the folly is a maintained ruin in one sense, its teleological imperative as a ruin is to be ruinous, to be detached from the temporal nature of maintained use. The ruinous effect, its capacity for picturesque pleasure for instance, depends on not being orientated towards use. This is also true of the ubiquitous practice of preserving ruins, which are preserved only in so far as they continue being ruinous and continue to stand in temporal distinction to the architecture of use. In the next chapter we shall explore in finer detail the delicate conclusions of the ruin that is left to dissolve into indistinction. Until then, we should acknowledge that our understandings of ruin rely upon preserving certain narratalogical structures of recursivity and anticipation. Attempts to stabilise, spare and preserve ruins do not simultaneously impose the temporal enclosure, the “goal” that we associate with use. Instead, to preserve the ruin is, in part, to keep this goal at bay, to preserve and potentially intensify the mediatory, unenclosed effect of ruin.

So, whilst part of the charm of a fabricated ruin issues precisely from fabrication, from artificiality, another facet arises from their successful simulation of ruin’s effects. Andreas Huyssen has argued that we can contrast modern ruins with those of the eighteenth century according to notions of authenticity. Huyssen argues that the celebration of ruins in the eighteenth century was driven by notions of “authorship, genius, originality, selfhood, uniqueness, and subjectivity” – by ruins that “seem to guarantee origins.”[10] Huyssen claims that the appeal made to authenticity that these ruins seemed to enact are now all but eliminated in, for instance, the contemporary use of Roman ruins for opera performances or the use of medieval castles for hotel accommodation.[11] But even a superficial examination of eighteenth or nineteenth-century follies shows that trying to periodise ruins according to ‘authentic’ and ‘inauthentic’ effects will prove unproductive, particularly since follies were celebrated for their ability to fuse authentic and inauthentic effects, staging both a challenge to notions of authorship, genius and originality, and a means to maintain and uphold these terms. It is better, in my view, to stress the dynamic role that narrative plays in every experience of ruin, each encounter must accept the way in which the ruin makes exigent particular time-bound narratives. Ruinous follies do not simply ‘guarantee origins’ but are capable of fabricating a fictitious past, an inauthentic origin, a time of use that never has and never will occur. In addition to the recycled quality of Sanderson Miller’s folly at Hagley, which took windows from the ruin from nearby Halesowen Abbey[12], we might consider Jeffry Wyatt’s use of Roman ruins at Virginia Water. Wyatt reused architectural fragments shipped from Leptis Magna on the Libyan coast in 1818. Without a clear plan of the original Roman construction, and making no attempt to represent their organisation at Leptis, Wyatt refashioned these fragments into what he called the ‘Temple of Augustus’. These ruins are, in a material sense, entirely ‘genuine’, ‘ancient’ and ‘original’ but their relocation and reassembly erodes any clear distinction between the authentic and inauthentic, or indeed, between ruin and fabrique. The fabrication of the ruin reveals, in Sophie Thomas’s view, “the ruin’s necessarily constructed relationship to questions of history, and its importance in the creation of the present.”[13] This propensity to stage the past, a past that responds to the way in which the ruin is bound to diverging and deconstructed times of use and waste, shows the ruin not to guarantee an authentic origin but to provide a narrative departure for many narrative constructions.

The ruin then, and its manifestation in the folly in particular, discloses one of the principal effects of waste; it suggests a disunity of time and a temporal counterpoint to those objects that surround it. William Ockenden, writing when the popularity of follies was nearing its height, chooses to stress the contemplative attraction of ruins:

 All remains excite an enquiry into the former state of the edifice, and fix the mind in a contemplation on the use it was applied to; besides the characters expressed by their style and position, they suggest ideas which would not arise from the buildings, if entire. The purposes of many have ceased; an abbey, or a castle, if complete, can no more than a dwelling; the memory of the times, and of the manners, to which they were adapted, is preserved only in history, and in ruins […]. [14]

This contemplative potential is, for the large part, a potential born from the comparative and narratological impulse that drives our experience of ruins. “Whatever building we see in decay,” continues Ockenden, “we naturally contrast its present to its former state, and delight to ruminate on the comparison.”[15] In eighteenth-century garden design, as it was on the Grand Tour, the lure of the ruin owes something to the temporal problems it posed. Ockenden does, however, concede a difference between ‘genuine’ and fictitious ruins, “It is true that such effects properly belong to real ruins; but they are produced in a certain degree by those which are fictitious; the impressions are not so strong, but they are exactly similar; and the representation, though it does not present facts to the memory, yet suggests subjects to the imagination.”[16] Those responsible for authoring and experiencing some of the best-known examples of ruin building certainly seem to accept a continuity of effect between ruins and their fabricated counterparts, what remains consistent is the narrative quality common to both.


[1] See Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins, 16.

[2] Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptures and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere , 4 vols. (New York: Everyman’s Library, 1996), 2:384–385.

[3] Batty Langley, New Principles of Gardening: Or, The Laying and Planting Paterres, Groves, Wildernesses, Labyrinths, Avenues, Parks &c. (London: Bettesworth, Batlry, Pemberton, Bowles, Clarke and Bowles, 1728), xi. Italics in original.

[4] Batty Langley, New Principles of Gardening, 196.

[5] William Gilpin, Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape, &c. (1794; London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1808), 46. My italics.

[6] Joseph Heely, Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and the Leasowes. With Critical Remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening, 2 vols. (London: R. Baldwin, 1777), 1:172–173.

[7] Horace Walpole, “From a Letter to Richard Bentley (September, 1753),” in The Genius of the Place: The English Landscape Garden, 1620-1820, ed. John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988), 313.

[8] See David Stewart, “Political Ruins: Gothic Sham Ruins and the ‘45,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 55 no. 4 (1996): 400–411.

[9] James Howley, The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1993), 109.

[10] Andreas Huyssen, “Authentic Ruins: Products of Modernity,” in Ruins of Modernity, ed. Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, 18, 20.

[11] Huyssen also suggests that the renovation of disused industrial ruins, such as the transformation of Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern in London, also exemplifies the ‘inauthentic’ era of the ruin. Here, it seems, it is not ideas of authenticity or inauthenticity that are at stake but whether ‘ruins’ are allowed to exist ‘free’ of human interference. In any case, the renovation or preservation of ruins is certainly not a modern phenomenon, as Huyssen seems to suggest.

[12] See E. W. Hawkes, “Sanderson Miller of Radway, 1716–1780: Architect,” (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1964), 45

[13] Sophie Thomas, “Assembling History: Fragments and Ruins,” European Romantic Review 14 (2003): 181.

[14] William Ockenden, Observations on Modern Gardening, Illustrated by Descriptions (Dublin: John Exchaw, 1770), 138.

[15] William Ockenden, Observations on Modern Gardening, 138

[16] Ibid, 138–139.

Waste Effects – Table of Contents

As a quick way of navigating this site I thought it might be helpful to upload my table contents and provide links. These are not verbatim extracts but versions or papers that have a close correspondence to the final text. And there are lots of other incidental posts on this site, which closely relate to the subject of waste, that have not made it into the final draft. Now that this project is almost complete, the work in progress found here will be left up as a record of the various iterations it went through before being handed in, together, as my PhD thesis.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. Introduction
– Use-time and the End of Ends
– Waste-time and the End of the End
– Epic Wastes: “Nothing will come of nothing”
Sovereign Wastes: Unproductive and Uninhabited
– For a Temporal Poetics of Waste
– The Beginning of the End

SECTION 1: COLLECTING WASTE

Chapter 2. Narrating the Event of Waste
Interrupting Waste
Continuities of Waste
Narrating The Event of Waste in the Work of Cornelia Parker

Chapter 3. Archaeologies of Waste
Gathering Waste
– The Contingencies of Narrating Waste
– Anthropologies of Waste: Collecting Culture, Collecting Time
– Archives and the Afterlife of Collections
– Waste Remains, Dust Dissolves

SECTION 2: READING WASTE

Chapter 4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
Make it Waste
– Bringing the Waste Land to Order
– Allusion, Intertexuality and Manuscript Drafts

Chapter 5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Waste Words and Throwaways
– A Language of Flotsam and Jetsam
– Narrating the Place of Textual Waste
– Waste in Progress
– Eliot and Joyce: Writing into Disappearance

SECTION 3: BUILDING RUINS

Chapter 6. Ruins Past
– The Temporality of Use
The Temporality of Ruins
– Ruins and the Past

Chapter 7. Ruins of the Future
Apocalypse, Then
– The Ozymandias Complex
– Encountering Last Things
– Concluding with Ruins

Artists Announce They’ve Found All The Beauty They Can In Urban Decay

Phew, The Onion have put me out of my misery:

DETROIT—After spending more than a century exploiting urban decay to create deeply moving, socially conscious works of art, the art world announced Tuesday that it had captured all the beauty it was going to find in rusted-out cars, abandoned houses, and condemned industrial sites. “These modern ruins speak to the very heart of the human condition, but at this point every last inch of Detroit and Oakland has been documented in photographs, on film, or as part of a multimedia installation,” said artist Devon Gerhart, who told reporters that devoting so much time to contemplating the wounded grandeur of blighted cityscapes had led him to the point where he just wanted to see the places cleaned up. “I made my career portraying the plight of the homeless, but now I’m starting to wonder whether they’d prefer it if someone just helped them find a place to live.” The world’s artists later confirmed plans to spend at least another 50 years churning out heavy-handed depictions of the inherent soullessness of suburban sprawl

Contemporaries

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…