Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 6)

Afterword: Digital Ordure, leftovers and leavings

“The politics of junk is complex and contested: it is tied up with social and cultural histories and with economies and ecologies of human and consumer waste.” (p.151)

Whiteley equates the use of trash as raw material to practices of dissent, outsider art, the radical and subversive, not just in the intrinsic nature of the materials and their connotations, but through the cultural contexts they are produces and presented in. “Trash provides a metaphor which continues to signify cultural radicalism and political subversiveness.”

“So, readings of junk depend on our own subjectivities but also they are shaped by trash’s situated histories. … Widespread does not equal homogeneous or universal.” (p.152)

Whietely also notes that e-waste may be the biggest growing problem and references Australian based Slow Art Collective http://sac-ts2.blogspot.com (p.154)

Further references include: British artist Stuart Brisley, Jean Shin, Tomoko Takahasi, El Anatsui, Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

Stuart Brisley is also co-founder of the Museum of Ordure which presents the process of digital decay ‘bit rot’ exploring cyberspace as a site where language and imagery disintegrates just as in the physical world. www.ordure.org

Michael Cataldi and Nils Norman – Univeristy of Trash at the SculptureCenter, New York in 2009 www.universityoftrash.org

In conclusion: Whiteley provides an indepth study into the histories of trash in art. For me, she provides some very useful points and references on the definition, categorisation and hierarchies on trash in the first few chapters, discusses comedy which is a key aspect and provides more focus on what she considers key movements and their cultural contexts. The political dimension is quite vague. The case studies of individual artists and movements provide the assertion that using junk in art is often intentionally or consciously politicised and dependent on cultural context.


Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 5)

Chapter 5: Accumulations, Panoplies and le Quotidien

In the chapter section French Practice and the Transfigurations of Everyday Mess (p.104), Whiteley quotes Michael de Certeau from Walking in the City in Practices of Everyday Life (1984): “Stories about places are makeshift things. They are composed with the world’s debris …[…]… Things extra and other (details and excesses coming from elsewhere) insert themselves into the accepted framework, the imposed order. One thus has the very relationship between spatial practices and the constructed order. The surface of this order is everywhere punched and torn open by ellipses, drifts, and leaks of meaning. It is slave-order.”

In New Realism and le Quotidien (p.109) Whitely discusses the Nouveau Réalisme movement founded in Paris on 27 October 1960 based on manifesto by French critic and theorist Pierre Restany. Original members were Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Jean Tinguely, Martial Raysse, Jacques de la Villeglé and Daniel Spoerri, led by Yves Klein. The movement later attracted César, Christo, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Gérard Descmps and Mimmo Rotella. Many of these artists were represented in The Art of Assemblage (1961). Restany’s 1960 manifesto focussed the need to engage ‘sociologically’ through artistic practice. (p.112)

“Michael Cone argues that the Nouveaux Réalistes rehabilitates the byproducts, the indigestible leftovers of the sociéte consummation towards aesthetic ends.” (p.110)

“I want to proffer a reading of these works which goes beyond narratives of their enactment of consumerist critique and reaches towards two possibilities: their restoration of a philosophy of praxis through the ‘political charge’ of the everyday and also the potential for their encompassing of everyday things.” (p.111)

In the chapter section Everyday Poubelles, Whiteley comments “The urge to acquire a totality of things, as Baudrillard noted, not only reminds as of our existence in the world, but also highlights the futility of such a task and, ultimately, forces us to reflect on our mortality.” (p.113)

“The systematic and limitless process of consumption arises from the disappointed demand for totality that underlies the project of life… Consumption is irrepressible, in the last reckoning, because it is founded on lack.” Jean Baudrillard – The System of Objects (1968) pp.223-4

Chapter 6: Cross-Cultural Encounters and Collisions: The Annandale Imitation Realists and Australian Modernism

This chapter focusses on the Annandale Imitation Realists founded in 1962 in Sydney by Mike Brown, Colin Lanceley and Ross Crothall with an artist practice of dissent. “We have discarded orthodox formulas” – Crothall.

Whiteley notes: Robert Hughes argues that if articulated a common theme of anti consumerism and saw it as being ‘in some kind of continuum’ with neo-Dada and Pop. “All these movements stem from a love-hate relationship with the materials, especially materials of our age. A society symbolises itself as much by what it throws awat as what it keeps; so that the junkster artist assiduously gathers the rubbish a d confronts us with it again, assembled in a new form but relying on the pariah-like associations of its original materials.” – review in The Nation, 16 June 1962. (p.123)

Whiteley notes that few artists were working in the assemblage idiom in Australia before 1906 except Robert Kippel and Barry Humphries. (p.129)

Richard Haese (p.131): “Roped together as a n oxymoron, Imitation Realism embodies a deliberate paradox and was intended, Dad fashion, as a repudiation of normal logic and conventional expectation.” Brought to Light: Australian Art, 1998.

On their choice of shared living accommodation in Annandale; Haese describes as; “somewhat run-down Victorian architectural base overlaid with the disorderliness of light industrial activity and the polygot results of postwar immigration.” The multicultural character appealed as Brown described as a ‘cultural stew’. (p.132)

On their asserted naïve position, Whitely notes: “An AIR statement stressed their isolation from the rest of the art world and guarded their outsider status.” Hughes argue it had more to do with ‘folk art’ than with the high tradition of modernism. (p.135)

“Craft traditions merged with contemporary consumerism.” (p.137). “For Mike Brown, ‘trash’ was both medium and ethos.” (p.142)

Other artists that Whiteley references include: Gikmai Kindun, Benny More, Rosalie Gascogine, Donna Marcus, Elizabeth Gower, Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro, Tim Risley, Loraine Connelly-Northey, Ash Keating.


Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 4)

Chapter 4: The Comedy of Waste: A Load of British Rubbish

Counterworlds and Mirth – The term counterworlds comes from Roland Barthes’ Redeeming Laughter (p.207); an upside down world.

“For centuries, art has employed humour as a political tool” – Lawrence Alloway. In Junk Culture (1981) Lawrence Alloway comments on the ludicrous nature of waste. “The ‘comedy of waste’ occurs in the oscillation between its drawing our attention to its commonality and familiarity and simultaneously, to its strangeness. (p.80)

“Artists have injected a wide range of forms of humour – including irony and slapstick – to break down barriers of taste, question authority and encourage laughter in the museum environment.” – Judith Olch Richards see also Dominic Molon & Michael Rooks – Situation Comedy: Humour in recent art (NY, ICI, 2005) (p.78)

Simon Critchley asserts that humour has strong connections to place (returns us to physicality) but also to locality; to specific and circumscribed ethos. (p.81)

“The comic transcends the reality of the ordinary, everyday existence.” – John Berger (p.83)

Michael Billig talks about the social hierarchy of humour in Laughter & Ridicule, p.74) (p.84) Billig identifies 3 paradoxes of humour: Universality and particularity; Social and antisocial aspects; Mysterious resistance to analysis and easily understandable. (p.85)

Whitely cites Sigmund Freud’s proposition that jokes are inherently social but express the unconscious desires and secret limitations of the individual (The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious). Freud identified the comic with the objet trouvé as something found. “The joke is made, comedy is found – in persons above all, and only by extensions in objects, situations and the like.” (ibid p.175) (p.84-5)

In Industrial Dereliction, Getting Wasted and More British Rubbish, Whiteley notes that the 1980s heralded the return of the object and emergence of a young generation of artists and ‘New British Sculpture.’ Cited artists include Richard Wentwiorth, Bill Woodrow, Tony Cragg, Cornelia Parker, Hew Locke, Brian Griffiths and Noble & Webster. (p.98-9)

Whitely asserts; “Like art, humour is open to multiplicity of readings depending on hermeneutics and the subjectivity of its audience.” (p.84)


Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 3)

Chapter 2: The Cultural Life of Detritus: From Objet Trouvé to the Art of Assemblage

Arjun Appadurei et al’s The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, 1986) marked a return to objects as a focus for anthropological study. This discusses the varying commodity potential of all things; dependent on their social history or cultural biography. (p.31)

Whiteley cites Allan Kaprow’s comments on his preference for using the debris of mass culture – ‘the medium of refuse’ – as part of a purposeful attempt to ‘abandon craftsmanship and permanence’: “…the use of obviously perishable materials such as newspaper, string, adhesive tape, growing grass or real food… so… no-one can mistake the fact the wok will pass into dust or garbage quickly.” (New Forms – New Media exhibition catalogue, New York, 1960). (p.33)

Assemblage is the main feature of this chapter. In the section Curiosities, Collections and Memorabilia, Whiteley describes assemblage as a “fundamental proves of collecting, sorting and arranging objects and paper-based ephemera. (p.34)

She also relates assemblage to museum classification and categorisations systems i.e. sorting by chronology, shape, material and location. Here she cites Mark Dion (Colleen J. Sheey’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Mark Dion and the University as Installation, 2006), Neil Cummings and Marysa Lewandowksa’s The Value of Things, Jeremy Deller’s Folk Archive exhibition (2005, Barbican) and Susan Stewart’s On Longing, Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (1984) p.151: “In contrast to the souvenir, the collection offers example rather than sample, metaphor rather than metonymy.” Furthermore on souvenirs: “Souvenirs act as surrogate experiences, second-hand experiences. The souvenir is always a referent hence always incomplete, and the narrative of the souvenir is not related to the object but to the possessor. Objects can be viewed as indexical of collective memory or as agent of imagined community but the subject rather than the object provide the narrative.” (p.35-36).

The chapter section The Art Assemblage largely focuses on the seminal exhibition of the same title held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1961, curated by William Seitz with Peter Selz. Whiteley asserts that Seitz chose to link assemblages much more to poetics than politics (p.45). She also notes that although extensively researched, the participating artists were mainly from North America and Europe (p.49).

From the exhibition catalogue, Seitz is quoted, “When paper is soiled or lacerated, when cloth is split, weathered, or patterned wit peeling coats of paint, when metal is bent or rusted, they gain connotations which unmarked materials lack.” (p.84-45 The Art of the Assemblage, NY, 1961)

Whitely concludes the chapter asserting that museum as institution has framed the canon of assemblage (p.51) and that the show “broke down disciplinary boundaries and provided trash with a new narrative, a cultural life of its own.” (p.53)

Chapter 3: Dissenters, Drifters and Poets: ‘Placing’ Assemblage in the San Francisco Bay Area

In this chapter, Whiteley provides a genealogy of Californian assemblage and junk artists. “In the late 1980s Sandra Starr equated Californian assemblage with Dada – not for the use of trash, but because she identified their shared sense of disgust with the world at large” (Lost and Found in California).

Lucy Puls’ “hoarding unwanted objects” (p.54)

Marcia Tanner’s “transforming consciousness” and the “mystical attraction of the unknown” (p.54)

Doreen Massey’s “No authenticity of place” (Space, Place and Gender, London, 1994, p.121) (p.54)

Clay Spohn’s Museum of Unknown and Little Known Objects (1940s) California School of Art (p.57)

Mike Kelley “thrift store aesthetics” – Jacques Ranciere: the Politics of Aesthetics (2000, London NY) (p.59)

Lana Davies: ‘the epiphany of the everyday’ sourced to Stephen Dedulus’ enlightenment in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (p.61)

Gordon Wagner making art out of detritus since 1940s, beach combing. (p.66)

Bruce Conner – self-described as radical not political, theatrical as opposed to Rauschenberg ‘painterly collagiste.’ Solnit associates with folk art over Dada [repugnant objects and formless materials]. (p.68-9)

Rat Bastard Protective Group (people who were making things from the detritus of society) named after San Francisco refuse collectors and acronym of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) (p.71-2)

Kathryn Space’s interest in methodologies of classification (subvert classification) collaboration and ‘relational’ practices, participative rather than polemic. (p.74)


Currently reading: Gillian Whiteley – JUNK: Art and the Politics of Trash (Part 2)

Chapter 1: Rehabilitating Rubbish: Histories, Value and Aesthetics

“This chapter considers some of the histories, definitions and shifting values of detritus in its diverse forms and the implications of all that for a subsequent consideration of ‘junk art’ within an aesthetic and non-aesthetic context.” (p.14)

For Whiteley, “Trash [is] a key social anthropological site for the examination of a range of discourses to do with local and global politics and economics.” (p.12)

On defining rubbish:

Whiteley cites that the rubbish tip has been rebranded [by the waste industry] as the recycling centre and is now a privatised business. (p.12)

She quotes Strasser: “What counts as trash depends on who’s counting.” (Waste & Want, 1999, p.3)

In the chapter section Trash Histories: Rags, Bones and Refuse, Whiteley defines rubbish as, “excess mater resulting from industrialisation and urbanisation.” (p.14)

On value (Trash Values, p.22-24), Whiteley takes the definition: (n.) anything of little use or value, and (v.) to discard as worthless [from Online Etymology Dictionary]. She also cites Mary Douglas’ definition of trash as “matter out of place.” All dirt is relative she asserts. “Generally, at the point of dislocation*, stuff usually consists of leftovers and remainders – waste or unwanted material – from some activity or process. *Dislocated stuff being refuse from the old French refus meaning to outcast and waste.

“Attempts to define trash lead back to a fundamental link to systems of value which are time and place specific. There is no material which is intrinsically trash.” Trash is a socially and culturally constructed concept. “The word, like its physical manifestation, is in a continually shifting state of conceptual, symbolic and material flux.” (p.24)

On categorisation:

“The history of waste has been the history of separating organic human waste from the rest. Processing rubbish involves sorting and categorising forms of waste.” (p.14) Whiteley cites Strasser again here in regards to the proposition that trash is created by sorting.

Whiteley also cites Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin in regards to the chiffonier [rag-picker] and the 19th century preoccupation and romanticism with the cycle of production. (p.16-17)

She quotes William Rathje [who coined the term and field of study garbology]; “Sorting garbage is the ultimate zen experience of our society […] because you feel it, ou smell it, you record it, you are in tactile intimacy with it. Some time or other everybody ought to sort garbage.” – quotes in Colleen p. Popson’s exhibition review Museums: The Truth is in Our Trash.

In talking about shit (p.24), Whiteley suggests that categories of waste are on a scale from the lowest form; human waste, through to common everyday stuff to considering rehabilitation and celebration – “from trash to treasure.”

Referencing Yves-Alain Bois & Rosalind Krauss’ Formless: A User’s Guide (MIT Press, 2000), Whiteley discusses the Aristotelian impulse to classify with the equations classification = order and structure and waste = chaos and disorder. (p.26)