WORK 11 / SOCIETY / TRASH

TRASH 01/12 Whenever I am walking on a sidewalk, I unconsciously scan the floor in search for discarded items. If I notice one I have never picked up before, I pick it up and put it in a pouch I keep around my torso. I later use the discarded objects to make collages of 15 by 15 centimeters. I then scan them and solarize them by inverting their colours. This digital collage is meant to be later printed on a decal for ceramic tiles. A month comprises of 16 of these tiles placed in a four by four grid. With this work then I am literally scavenging. While in many of my works I also roam like a homeless around the urban environment to see what it has to offer, in this work I literally collect actual trash. Unlike the afro american scavenger and diarist Carolina Maria de Jesus who used to collect paper around the streets of Sao Paulo to then resell it to feed her and her kids, I keep the paper and make it itself part of my journaling of reality. Like Dona Carolina I retain my instinct to gather my food from the environment and live a rather destituted life (Fig. Picture showing a month of trash picking comprising of a total of 16 tiles. The first tile of the third row shows a metro card depicting the recently married queen of Sweden, I found in the snowy sidewalk of a rich Stockholm neighborhood. At that time I was broke and without a job and with the card I could travel for several months for free giving rest to my legs).

TRASH 02/12 If everything goes well, at the end of my project in 2040 I will have scanned 6.192 tiles. This amount to 15.552 square meters of picked trash over the course of 36 years. If will ever be exhibited the work results into a dump wit the only difference that the old layers of garbage do not get covered by new layers. Rather all this dump has been reassembled by an individual into a flattened landscape almost as if the viewers will have to take account of it without the possibility to hide their consumer traces with new traces. The assemblage itself however elevates the garbage into a more noble material that could come to decorate the interiors of wealthy individuals, the same who are behind the capitalist enterprises so much polluting the planet. In this respect the installation is no longer the sidewalk where the trash was picked but a centralized sidewalk, a fashionable catwalk that has been purified by the dirt of its content. In addition, as in mosques, visitors to the walk will have to remove their shoes, to ensure that the fired layer on the ceramic will not be spoiled. In this respect they themselves become like poor barefoot scavengers trying to make sense of all the trash (Fig. Screenshot of how the long walk could like in an exhibition setting. It is somewhat of a river of trash coming to represent what a human had to absorb through his or her life of a social consumer).

TRASH 03/12 This work is highly representative of the societies I explore. Perhaps more than a scavenger than I become an ethnographer bringing forward an element that is highly representative of the condition shaping a particular society, namely the commerce that shapes it. Not only then my trash picking shows the different calligraphies of the world but also the way different societies of the world boost or censure certain persuasive content over time. While on the sidewalk of Tokyo and Prague I might find pornographic content, on the muddy sidewalks of Madurai the content of the trash is of a religious nature. The work is in this respect a true radiography of a nation as well as on psychological brainwashing that its citizen has to undergo in it. A careful examination of the gathered trash can in fact reveal certain pattern such as for example the one brought forward by the Black Lives Matter movement; suddenly from the fall of 2020 black people became the predominant character represented in ads even in the Netherlands where the black community is only 3% of the population (Fig. Collages of trash mostly picked during my intense trip through Southern India. Brought back to the sterile environments of Northern Europe the Indian trash still retained the temple like incense smell which can still be appreciated scavenging through my physical archive).

TRASH 04/12 In later years I settled in the Netherlands regularly traveling across Europe to visit my son in Sweden or to build the project museum in Italy. During these trips I kept scavenging around random French or German towns but most of the trash picking was done in the Netherlands. While the trash I have picked has Dutch text written on it, I have notice that pretty much all the fliers and cigarette boxes and generally the advertisement picked from the sidewalk of the Western world started looking increasingly the same. This has occurred throughout the course of the project, at time in which multinational companies like McDonald, Malboro, H&M, IKEA contributed to the gentrification of the Western urban environments. In some respect then what I have also documented in the course of this systematic trash picking work is the gradual disappearance of local and even national brands. Everything became more global; the KFC fast-food packaging I can pick in Rotterdam is similar if not the same from the KFC packaging I can pick in Shanghai (Fig. Picture showing the daughter of my Dutch neighbours exploring an installation I made sticking collages printed on adheisve on 60 by 60 centimeters ceramic tiles. In this case it was also interesting to see how the actual RGB light depicting the weather I experience interacted with the solarized colours of the tiles).

TRASH 05/12 Picking trash from the sidewalk I have somewhat avoided contaminated trash like packaging of liquid food such as yogurt but also trash that due to rain or snow got too wet. If I do pick wet trash by the time I scan it not only it has molded but it can have compromised the other trash it has been placed with by for instance getting attached to it. In one occasion I have tried to pick trash in cities like Saint Petersburg crossing it extensively but the snow put an end to much of my expectations. In many cities at large my expectation to explore them and pick trash is in fact diminished by weather conditions but also by extreme tidiness. After scanning all the trash I keep a selection of it for my physical archive making. Here once again I make sure to discard trash that is too dirty and therefore could lead to mold and bacterias. For this further selection I am more likely to keep the more solid trash such as the one that has been laminated but also when possible the trash that is more unique such as papers with handwritten notes such as phone numbers and shopping lists. Also I try to save the less globalist trash such as business cards of local artists and producers (Fig. Screenshot showing me in picking whatever trash I could find from the snow wet Russian sidewalks. Here I found far more little trash than in consumer/democratic nations also given the censorship of the authoritarian regime).

TRASH 06/12 Not only in winters or during rainy seasons I could find very little trash but also in cities obsessed with keeping clean and sterile like in some German cities where several hours of walks can lead to almost no trash picked. This was particularly the case of Innsbruk where I walked for three consecutive days in the spring of 2019. While I barely found any trash to pick on the sidewalk I mostly filmed the pristine public spaces surrounded by snow covered picks. In a city usually I try to explore more peripheral and interesting places such as artist squatted areas, immigrant areas and red light districts. While in Berlin for example I avoid the increasingly gentrified center of town and shift to dirty but full of life peripheries of the South such as Neuk├Âlln. Here I can experience an authentic blend of both the immigrant community and the artist community taking several local initiatives to manifest themselves. Similarly in Hamburg I avoid the super sterile financial district and focus on the trashy red light district and the vivid bohemian neighborhoods becoming more of a rat going where the trash is (Fig. Screenshot of one of the rare times I actually made it inside a city to pick trash. In this case I am in the mist of Manhattan. In such places the trash tend to only represent the tourist influx. Mostly I pick trash in the more normal, peripheral and residential areas where I myself live).

TRASH 07/12 I mostly used a pouch around my chest to collect the trash I pick. The trash actually goes in a zip lock bag I always keep inside the pouch so as not to make it dirty. When a bag is full I replace it with a new one and put the filled bag in a box waiting for its content to be scanned. These bags are the same distributed at airports to place liquids separately prior the security scan. In my short lived career as an academic I have often commuted around Europe and have been collecting several of these bags. However during the time of the security scan I often feared that the guard might find some illicit substance in the trash I have picked. Previously I have also been using tetra pak milk containers to store the trash I picked. For the purpose each container was made flat, teared open, washed and dried. Later with my kids I used to put the trash straight in a pocket of the stroller (Fig. Selfie showing the pouch I bought second hand with the actual zip lock bag I get from airports to keep it clean. I mostly used this set up when traveling and visiting bigger cities. In the small Dutch village where I have settled, there is barely any new trash to pick beside for market days. In the village then I do not wear a pouch and if there is a unique trash to pick I put it in my pocket or in my kids stroller. At home I then bring it to my attic studio where I keep a box with all the trash. When the box is full I start scanning).

TRASH 08/12 To scan I use a portable Canon Lide 110 scanner. On the glass of the scanner I drew a 15 by 15 centimeters area with a permanent marker. Here I position trash by hand trying to fill the area entirely just checking for what could fit in this improvised arrangement. These arrangements I do on the scanner itself are like collages and I became quite good at creating them although at times some spaces are left open as there is no trash of that size to fill it. Also a lot of the times the trash is overlapped only what I believe to be the most interesting part get scanned. At times I even have to consider which side of a trash printed on both sides I should scan and I often go for the more colorful side. When the collage is finished I start the scanning with the lid open and the light off or with a cardboard box placed on top of the scanner to create such dark conditions. The lid has in fact being removed and the first scanner which lasted several years bares the signs of the Israeli police who searched inside it to see if it contained anything compromising breaking it open with a screwdriver (Fig. Picture showing an early set up I adopted to scan trash. On the left the trash is put on a newspaper to collect all the dirt that might fall from it and the scanner is covered with a box so to keep the scanning plate dark. If I scan at night the cardboard is not used and the light is switched on and off).

TRASH 09/12 The size used in each scan is 567 by 567 pixels (15 by 15 centimeters) and the resolution is set to 96 dpi. Each scan is then placed in a 60 by 60 centimeters 4 by 4 tile collage corresponding to a month. After arranging the 16 scans in the collage I convert the result into a .pdf file. After each scan the trash is sorted according to paper, plastic and metal. Later this material is brought to the recycling station. I then feel like that this work also provides a service to society. At the end of each scanning section I use a spray cleaner to sanitize the scanner glass which gets usually quite dirty. Also my desk and my laptop get dirty in the process and I also make sure I clean them. While I never got any disease from the trash picking and scanning I do feel that my nose can get quite itchy. I do not dare to scratch however until I properly wash my hands. When I do so the water turns black (Fig. Picture of an archival box in which a further selection of the trash I scan is kept. This selection is not only based on special items such as ID card or a handwritten paper or a postcard but also on things that are not too corrupted and are clean and solid enough to withstand time. The dates written with the marker on the zip bags are the date in which the scanning occurred. Notice that among the zip bags there is also a Swedish tetra pack yogurt container. It is what I originally adopted to collect the trash I picked).

TRASH 10/12 I have initially experimented with firing the decals of my trash collages under a research project at Harvard University. At that time I was living in Cambridge Massachusetts and Panagiotis Michalatos, an old Greek friend, asked me to pursue my ceramic tiles experiment as part of a research project. As a result I was assisted by Kathyrin King, an artist working for the ceramic program. With her I spent months experimenting the ideal parameters to follow in order to fire such digitally created collages. Using ceramic decals on plain tiles we conducted different experiments at different temperatures. Lastly we opted for the most suitable parameters but after that the collaboration ended. The main positive side of such firing technique was that the result was rather long lasting and it could have been proposed for a public context like a metro station where millions of people walk every year. Given the amount of scans of trash I made the content itself would have been quite various and not as redundant as design on tiles tend to be. The downside of such technique were two. On the one hand the resources required to carry it out the firing were too many and complex to deal with. On the other hand the result in itself was black and white and perhaps not so intriguing as the actual solarized collages (Fig. Picture showing my hand picking one of the tiles from the kiln).

TRASH 11/12 While this attempt to represent society through its sidewalk trash has a stark artistic component, namely my ability to create collages, it's motif is truly anthropological. With this work I want to provide a picture of the social environment I have lived in. As an outsider without any occupations and often undocumented I have been scavenging through the peripheries of many cities. Despite such an effort I understand that this work is most unlikely to be exhibited. It cannot be public do to the fact that it infringes the ever tougher copyright laws protecting the companies which has produced the very fliers and products I have scanned. My argument however is that in the end it is the consumer who is the real victim on such commercial impositions. While there was a trend in which artists such as Mimmo Rotella made use of ready available graphics for their artworks, I understood that times have change and that commerce have the possibility to be more and more aggressive. The petty consumer cannot do anything in return, perhaps in the future not even dream about a Coca Cola bottle without having to ask for copyright permissions (Fig. Picture showing me after installing my trash picking work in San Francisco. It presents the trash I picked during my year living in the United States. It immediately rose the interest of potential American buyers that I never pursued).

TRASH 12/12 In an ideal exhibition the 432 resulting trash collages would be placed as somewhat of a unrolled carpet throughout the main corridor of the hypothetical shrine-like building. This corridor is 4.8 meters wide and 32.4 meters long and comes to work as somewhat of a perspective introduction to the video of public spaces. The altar-screen showing these videos is placed at the end as if the corridor of trash itself continues within the very public and polluted places where the trash itself was picked. The light of the screen also might reflect on the tiles as much as other lights like the RGB reproduction of the weather. In order to view particular trashes the visitors will have to bend down as much as I bent to pick them. If from the beginning I was inspired to live in many different cultures to almost have a global overview of the trash of the world, this was became no longer necessary as pretty much this trash became in itself global as the oceans polluted with huge islands of floating plastic. In addition also the very rise of global pandemics have killed social life and turned human environments ever more sterile. In this respect I have been picking physical trash at the time in which trash became ever more virtual and humanity ever more paperless and also virtual to some extent (Fig. Rendering in which the trash corridor is red highlighted. The corridor of tiles resembles the tile work in ancient buildings).