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Artefact Survey


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Artefact Survey

  1. 1. Felix Wilson 1Artefact SurveyThe project Waste in Place: The McRobies Gully Tip as Landscape will userepresentations of the McRobies Gully landfill site in South Hobart to explorecontemporary understandings of landscape and its relationship to theaesthetics of human and non-human relations.Humans, animals, birds and others interact in ways that challengeconventional understandings of ecology on the site. The project will developrepresentations of the site and the relations occurring there that affordpossibilities for recalibrating shared aesthetic understandings of waste andrelations between human and non-human.This artefact survey discusses works by ten artists that provide context for theproject. The first section, framing waste discusses art practices that have usedwaste as a device for discussing and critiquing existing social, economic, andenvironmental perspectives. Section two, transformational relations takes abroader view and discusses works that have sought to provoke considerationof the place of human beings and their relations to animals, objects, or place.The conclusion briefly discusses the implications of the works discussed forthe practical and theoretical aspects of the project.
  2. 2. Felix Wilson 2Framing Waste
  3. 3. Felix Wilson 3Arman (b. Armand Pierre Fernandez) Poubelle 1, 1960, Household garbagein a plastic box, 20,5 x 28,1 x 5,1 inches, viewed 21 April 2013,<>.French artist Arman’s Poubelle I is a plastic container holding householdwaste.Arman’s work uses the the raw materials of the waste of a French household,and like Italo Calvino’s essay La Poubelle Agréée (2009) he uses this toexplore issues of cultural value, materiality and the metaphysicaltransformation an object undergoes when it becomes waste.The presentation of such mundane materials as art was intended as adeliberate provocation to conventional artistic values and practices, followingDuchamp (Alfred 2012). It provides a foundation that many artists workingwith waste have built upon, and although formally different from many laterworks, it seems to prefigure the concerns of a later generation of artists whoused waste to explore issues related to human impact and environmentalchange.This work presents the viewer with what was intended to be removed fromview, challenging perceptions of artistic practice and the relationship ofpeople and objects. For the McRobies Gully Project, this provides afoundational example of how waste can be used to examine wider concerns.
  4. 4. Felix Wilson 4Muniz, V, Marat (Sebastião), 2009, photographic print, dimensions unknown,viewed 23 April 2013, <>.Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s Marat (Sebastião) is a photograph of garbagearranged to form an image, based on a photograph made by the artist, in thestyle of David’s Marat, of a garbage picker on a Rio de Janeiro landfill site.The documentary Waste Land (Walker 2010) followed Muniz as he workedwith a group of garbage pickers. By photographing them striking poses fromhistorically significant art works and then recreating the images on a largescale using garbage collected by them, Muniz engaged them in the history ofart and cultural production and by returning the profits from the sale of theworks at auction he provided a means for them to change their lives.The complex relations between art history, social activism and artisticpractice embodied in this project provide a rich example of the use of wastein art to challenge and attempt to change existing social conditions. Thefocus on the social aspects of waste differs from the intent of the McRobiesGully project, however the dissolving of the human figure into the ground ofwaste in Muniz’s image suggests complex relationships between humans andwaste objects that the project seeks to explore.
  5. 5. Felix Wilson 5Chris Jordan, Untitled (from series Midway: Message from the Gyre), 2009,photographic print, dimensions unknown, viewed 23 April 2013,<>.United States artist Chris Jordan’s photographs represent the human impacton the environment by depicting dead albatross on a remote atoll.The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an enormous collection of plastic debrisin the Pacific Ocean. It is picked up by albatross feeding in the area and fedto their chicks, often causing death. Jordan’s intent is to raise awareness ofthe problem, however in representing the problem visually it is simplified;recent research has shown that some species benefit from the increasedplastic (Goldstein, Rosenberg & Cheng 2012).Jordan’s work deliberately confronts the viewer, instead of waste containedby Perspex as in Arman’s Poubelle I, the waste is in the ‘container’ of anAlbatross corpse. The use of an aerial perspective is similar to Vik Muniz’sdepictions of waste, however Jordan’s image brings the viewer closer andreveals our complicity by emphasising familiar plastic objects.Birds are highly culturally resonant and Jordan’s use of the albatross suggeststhat depicting highly symbolic non-human species can engage viewers inways that depicting objects don’t, suggesting that depicting the birds andanimals that use the site can draw viewers into a complex narrative aboutwaste and human impact.
  6. 6. Felix Wilson 6Burtynsky, E, China Recycling #5, Phone Dials, Zeguo, Zhejiang Province,2004, photographic print, dimensions unknown, viewed 24 April 2013,<>.Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky’s photograph of telephone dials at aChinese recycling facility addresses issues of human impact on theenvironment.In Burtynsky’s images China, which has rapidly become the largest exporterof consumer goods in the world (Yueh 2010) becomes a symbol of humanthe impact of global consumerism. Burnett (2010) suggests Burtynsky’sChinese images have a monumental quality, in their depiction of the sheerscale and materiality of waste they suggest overwhelming forces beyond theagency of individuals.This vision of waste and environmental destruction on an enormous scalecannot be applied to the McRobies Gully site, which is modest in size and inclose proximity to significant remnant vegetation. Rather than focussing onoverwhelming impact and scale the project will explore the subtle relationsbetween humans and non-humans occurring on the site, these are aspects ofwaste that Burtynsky’s work tends to ignore.
  7. 7. Felix Wilson 7Hugo, P, Aissah Salifu, 2010, Photographic print, dimensions unknown.Viewed 23 April 2013, <>.South African artist Pieter Hugo’s Aissah Salifu depicts a lone human figure ina gloomy and fume-ridden atmosphere on a site in Ghana that is used forrecycling electronic waste, combining a mediaeval vision of hell with morecontemporary dystopian imagery.Hugo uses a similar strategy to Jordan; including familiar objects such ascomputer monitors relate the scene to the viewer’s use and disposal oftechnology. This emphasis on relations is heightened by the accusatory stareof the subject. Lepawsky and Mather (2011) argue against conceptions ofelectronic waste that do not take into account the complexity of the networksof production and consumption of objects, pointing out there is no clearbeginning or end to the use of materials. Accepting this, Hugo’s workbecomes an image from a point in time of global production systems,suggesting the damage to people and animals inherent in this complexnetwork.For the McRobies Gully Project, this work suggests that objects familiar to theviewer can draw them directly into relations with the subject of therepresentation, potentially to consider their own role in the network ofproduction and consumption. The emphasis on the negative aspects is notsomething that the project aims at, but these are inherent in any discussionof waste.
  8. 8. Felix Wilson 8Transformational Relations
  9. 9. Felix Wilson 9Smithson, R, Asphalt Rundown, Rome, Italy, 1969, Sculptural work,dimensions variable, viewed 24 April 2013,<>.United States artist Robert Smithson’s Asphalt Rundown was a performancein which the artist poured liquid asphalt down a hill on the outskirts of Rome.In direct contrast to Arman, who contains waste, Smithson was interested inthe entropic release and movement of raw materials (Casey 2005). Althoughthe asphalt in Smithson’s work is not waste, by pouring it into the quarry andallowing it to take form over the ground’s surface, Smithson’s gesture relatesdirectly to landfill practices and to the quotation from Heraclitus hereferences in A Sedimentation of the Mind (Smithson & Flam 1996):The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusionSmithson’s work that involved directly altering the surface of the earthchallenged contemporary environmental thinking about how human beingsshould relate to land and his exploration of relations between site and non-site provide a framework for thinking about the relations between a gallerysite and the represented site in the McRobies Gully project, as well as forreconsidering waste as something purposeful.
  10. 10. Felix Wilson 10Baltz, L, South Corner, Riccar America, 3184 Pullman, Costa Mesa, 1974,Photographic print, dimensions unknown, viewed 25 April 2013,<>.United States artist Lewis Baltz’s photograph South Corner, Riccar America,3184 Pullman, Costa Mesa depicts a recently constructed industrial facility inCalifornia.The image was included in the 1975 New Topographics exhibition thatmarked a significant shift in photographic representations of theenvironment. The use of large format camera and black and white filmprovide a stark, minimalist quality with subtle tonal gradations. The imageryrepresents a significant and deliberate break from established traditions oflandscape photography of the American West.Greg Foster-Rice (2010) argues that this work represents a systematicapproach to landscape imagery. Systems analysis was an established modeof analysing economic and environmental relations when Baltz made thework and the emphasis on diagrammatic modes of analysis fed into asystematic aesthetic that criticised the economic rationality behind thearchitecture and land use practices that were becoming dominant.Baltz’s work provides an example of photographic imagery affordingconsideration of systematic relations between the site pictured and the widersocial context, and in this way is highly relevant to the McRobies GullyProject.
  11. 11. Felix Wilson 11Selig, S, Rivers Recording the Universe (Tokyo) (installation view), 2008-9,Installation: dimensions variable, viewed 18 April 2013,<>.Australian artist Sandra Selig’s video based installation Rivers recording theuniverse (Tokyo) uses multiple screens in a darkened space to create animmersive experience of the cosmic.The installation consists of multiple semi-transparent screens hung at varyingheights and angles in a darkened space, these receive images fromprojectors mounted out of sight. The videos are looped recordings of thesurface of bodies of water in Tokyo, which reflect lights from the city inshimmering patterns. The work offers experience rather than didacticinformation transfer, allowing viewers to reflect on their own perception andsense of time and space. The title of the work alludes to a particular site, butalso to the cosmic scale evoked by the experiential aspects of the work.This work offers a poetic and metaphorical approach to issues of scale andhuman relations with space and light that resonate with possibilities. Theimplications of this work for the project are that metaphor and poeticinterpretation of a site can provide a viewer with an experience thatencourages deep reflection. The use of video and the display strategies usedare both excellent examples of how an artist can transform perception andengage viewers with complex issues using simple apparatus.
  12. 12. Felix Wilson 12Coates, M. Dawn Chorus (still from video), 2007, Multiple videos, dimensionsvariable, viewed 21 April 2013,<>.British artist Marcus Coates’ video work Dawn Chorus explores human andnon-human relations using bird song.The artist made recordings of wild birds then slowed them enough to allowindividual members of an amateur choir to sing along. Each singer wasrecorded in their home or workplace around dawn, and sang the call of aparticular species. The result is a series of video recordings of this singing,which are played back at the speed of the original bird song, allowing theaudience to experience humans singing indistinguishably from birds.Coates explores the blurred line dividing humans from animals, deftlymanaging to engage audiences with humour while provoking considerationof the role of animals in human lives and human connections to site andenvironment.The relevance of this work to the project is in its entangling of human andnon-humans. Like Chris Jordan, Coates recognises the symbolic importanceof birds to human cultures, and uses this to engage viewers with a powerfulmetaphor about coexistence and the commonalities of birds and humanbeings. This work offers possibilities for representation or interaction with thebirds and animals of the McRobies Gully site in the project.
  13. 13. Felix Wilson 13Yun, C, Constellation (installation view), 2006, installation: dimensionsvariable, viewed 23 April 2013, <>.Chinese artist Chu Yun’s Constellation is an installation consisting ofhousehold electrical appliances in a darkened space.As the viewer enters the space, small coloured lights appear at varied depthsin the space. This produces a mildly disorienting effect; a loss of scale, and itis only with the gradual transition in the viewer’s perceptual processes thatthe mundane quality of the room is apparent; the lights are simply the smallstandby power indicators on a range of household electrical appliances.Standby power has become an environmental concern; some researchindicates that up to one quarter of a household’s power consumption may befrom appliances on standby. (Clement, Pardon & Driesen 2007; Ross & Meier2001). Reading Yun’s work in this light gives it a more ominous tone, howeverthis is not an explicit aim of the artist, the interaction between objects andhuman perception seems to be at the core of the work.Yun’s articulation of multiple concerns about human presence, perceptionand relations with familiar objects suggests possibilities for the poeticinterpretation of the complex relations on the McRobies Gully site. The useof familiar objects echoes Arman’s use of the mundane to challengeperceptions, although the container for Yun’s work is a darkened room, bothartist’s work suggests the power of unmediated objects to invoke meaningand to experience transformation.
  14. 14. Felix Wilson 14To conclude, the works discussed in the first section Framing Waste arethematically relevant and provide a window into artistic practices involvingwaste, highlighting photographic work that has dealt with waste as anenvironmental and social issue. These works tend to use waste to challengeexisting understandings of consumption and value and to highlightenvironmental damage associated with waste.This project is grounded in a photographic approach, however experimentswith video and sound and other techniques are ongoing, and the project’sfinal practical outcomes have not been decided. The works in the secondsection, Transformational Relations include a range of technical approachesthat set a tone for how these experiments might be presented and resolved.These works share common concerns but they are broad, framing questionsin modes that reveal complexity rather than promote didactic simplification.By engaging with perceptual processes and awareness of the nature of ourunderstanding through diverse practical strategies they implicate andentangle the viewer in a complex mesh of coexistence.The project’s aims are to create a body of work in response to the site thataffords new possibilities for imagining the site as a place of relations betweenhuman and non-human. The artworks discussed above, read as a whole, giveglimpses of possibilities for how to achieve this.
  15. 15. Felix Wilson 15ReferencesAlfred, P 2012, Arman, Grove Art Online, viewed 01/05/2013,<, C 2010, New Topographics Now, in G Foster-Rice & J Rohrbach(eds), Reframing the New Topographics, University of Chicago Press,Chicago.Calvino, I 2009, La Poubelle Agréée, in The Road to San Giovanni, Penguin,London.Casey, ES 2005, Earth-mapping: artists reshaping landscape, University ofMinnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minn.Clement, K, Pardon, I & Driesen, J 2007, Standby power consumption inBelgium, in Electrical Power Quality and Utilisation, 2007. EPQU 2007. 9thInternational Conference on, pp. 1-4.Foster-Rice, G 2010, "Systems Everywhere" New Topographics and Art ofthe 1970s, in G Foster-Rice & J Rohrbach (eds), Reframing the NewTopographics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Goldstein, MC, Rosenberg, M & Cheng, L 2012, Increased oceanicmicroplastic debris enhances oviposition in an endemic pelagic insect,Biology Letters, vol. 8, no. 5, pp. 817-820.Lepawsky, J & Mather, C 2011, From beginnings and endings to boundariesand edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste,Area, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 242-249.Ross, J & Meier, A 2001, Whole-house measurements of standby powerconsumption, in Energy Efficiency in Household Appliances and Lighting,Springer, pp. 278-285.Smithson, R & Flam, JD 1996, Robert Smithson, the collected writings,University of California Press, Berkeley.Walker, L 2010, Waste Land, DVD, 2011. Distributed by New Video Group.Yueh, L 2010, The Economy of China, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.