Spending this past week gleaning waste has made us realise that we are a society happy to dispose of rubbish readily because we have little relationship to it. At home we don't have a relationship with this sort of waste – we simply don't buy these kinds of products. We grow food, compost and bulk buy as much as we can. We haven't yet worked out how to do without plastic and other disposables altogether, but we're working on it.
Did you know that humans are the only land mammals who defecate in their drinking water? Instead of seeing our bodily waste as compost to be used to help fertilise our food and environment, we avoid dealing with it at all costs. Surely if we have no relationship to our own waste, we will find it difficult to have a relationship to any other.
As we pick up rubbish each day, we are trying to build a relationship with it. One of the best ways we do this is through narrative: we make up stories about the situation that led to the discarding of that broken sunglasses arm, the split boogie board, the rolled up nappy, the beer bottle.
There are other ways to tell stories with waste too. The local primary school where Zeph has been in attendance for the last four days had a Marble Run competition, where students constructed courses made from waste for marbles to travel along.
Here are some of the entries:
Aren't they great? The Marble Run is definitely one of the activities Zeph is excited to take back to his classmates at home.
Here is another example of creative recycling we have come across in Newcastle, from a shop of local designers called Make Space:
And then there are artists such as US-based David Edgar who uses recycled plastic to raise awareness about the ill health of our natural habitats.
Of course recycling our waste is better than just dumping it, but one of the potential problems of aestheticising it is glorifying its existence in the world. In the same way carbon offsetting has become just another way to justify a lack of environmental conscientiousness.
But we are guilty of that too. We flew to Newcastle because we figured the work we would do here justified our air travel. We are artists, therefore we are natural mediators. We have to remain aware of this. When we take a photo of our mounting waste at the end of each day, we are specific with our lighting and our camera angles, wanting to make the shot look as good as it can. Perhaps this is just another form of disconnection too? We are creating representations here. You can't smell the stench that is beginning to emanate from the exercise yard, online.