the untold stories behind what we have


I’m digging through a garbage bag. Used tissues, half-eaten cookies, a lollipop, tea bags, rubber gloves, a sad blue gobstopper rolling like Earth in a galaxy of trash. No, the New statesman didn’t send me rummaging through the trash cans of an unsuspecting celebrity. It’s art.

Garbage collection is an exhibition opening this week at the Science Museum, which invites visitors to sort through bags of their waste over a period of one month. Giant photos are taken of the waste, which is sorted on pristine white operating table-style pedestals, and a constantly updated montage of all that waste is shown on a giant screen underfoot.

Notable objects – toys, bag of drugs, cologne, cash, shoes – are chosen by the artist’s assistants, who, in their identical gray overalls and black rubber gloves at each sorting station, give to space looks slightly dystopian.

The idea is that after a month of sorting and breaking up the waste, the materials are returned to the exhibition space once they have partially completed the processing cycle – paper bales, giant piles of ash, steel ingots, plastic cubes compacted bottles. These will be displayed among the more eccentric objects found among the trash, to present the stories, and often the mystery, behind what some people throw away, as well as the sheer volume of what we waste.

Museum visitors gather around each sorting station in a room at the back of the museum. It only opened to the public on Monday, but already that warm, sweet scent of garbage juice is floating in the air. I sign a disclaimer saying I won’t sue if I contract a malicious virus from a yogurt cover, put on latex gloves and a plastic apron and get stuck in it. My trash bag is made up of tissues and tea bags, soggy cookies and sticky candies. I look longingly at the next table, where a man happily sorts through a bag full of clean, colorful binders and binders.

Your reporter, engaged in secular journalism
practice of rummaging in trash cans

The difference between the objects on each of the white tables is fascinating, and it’s hard to understand how some ended up in the museum’s trash cans.

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“It’s only day 2 and we have found real money, £ 5 and 8 pence so far we have found a whole bunch of drugs, drugstore drugs, basically a medicine cabinet drugs, “jokes the artist of the exhibition Joshua Sofaer. .

“We got things that were completely usable, like a bowl. Perfectly fine, it should have been washed and put back in the cafe. Half-eaten yogurt with the teaspoon mom put in with the yogurt the kid was clearly supposed to bring back and they were probably told, “Bring back the teaspoon!” I think it’s more stories than objects; it’s about imagining who threw these things away and what they threw away.

Other puzzling items are hundreds of springs, a pair of black leather shoes with apples lodged inside, and toys presumably from the gift shop still in their packaging.

I ask Sofaer if, in the same way that producers of heartbreaking nature programs are not allowed to dive and save plaintive baby elephants, it is forbidden to save anything from incinerators.

“Yes, we can’t do it! If it is general waste, it will return to general waste before leaving the building and will be incinerated, ”he says.

I notice that there are toys that the children clearly threw away by mistake, and that a visitor looks particularly distressed when he looks in the trash.

Artist Joshua Sofaer peering through a garbage bag at one of the exhibit’s sorting stations. Photo: Copyright the Science Museum

Sofaer has already worked with trash, on the Scavengers project at Tate Modern, made a “trash library” in Japan, and also worked with catadores from Brazil, human scavengers who find value in what people throw.

“The first thing that sparked my interest in waste wasn’t really an environmental or green reason, it was more that I was interested in the idea of ​​the ready-made, and how objects gain value in the second they are brought into a museum, ”he tells me. “You buy paints for pennies and apply them in a certain way and the canvas is worth millions. I was interested in the process by which something that was worth nothing becomes something due to the context of a museum.

“And so at first when I got interested in waste it was around these questions of money, value and status, and I tried to overturn the common sense assumption of what something is worth. which is discarded, and the status of the museum or gallery is accorded to these kinds of objects.

However, he now despairs of all that we waste as a human race, and his respect for what ends up in our trash cans has now manifested in his own home:

“For me, personally, it really transformed the way I deal with my waste. I find it very, very difficult now to throw things away. A little too much I would say… I really religiously wash my waste before putting it for recycling. I have visited recycling plants, see the problems they have and know what good garbage should look like. So there isn’t even a trace of canned tomato on my cans of canned tomatoes once I throw them away! Maybe I’m going a little too far.

The Waste Collection, Science Museum, London. Open until September 14, 2014


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