Rubbish Conversation with Lars Tharp at the Hepworth, Wakefield, 19/01/14


LT: I don’t know what else I can say about this that you don’t already know.

AB: I’d like to hear what you think of it’s value.

LT: You don’t really want to know that?

AB: I do. By the process you’d normally use to value objects..?

LT: Oh that’s easy. The process by which we do all the valuations works on the basis that most of the objects brought in are comparable to similar items. In the case of ceramics for example; ceramics are mass produced essentially identical objects will appear over time with little variants.

AB: So, stuff like this [rubbish] is the extreme of that mass-production?

LT: It’s interesting; if you’d been in something like the Turner Prize and this had been made by someone who had a name already as a conceptual artist it would have a value which you could probably gauge. The artist would have an agent which would already be tapping into New York probably.. but what it’s worth is what anyone is prepared to pay for it. It’s a really good question. I would say it’s worth, monetarily, in this present market, erm, it’s probably worth somewhere between nothing and nothing plus X.

AB: Haha!

LT: That’s all I can say! But when you come back in five years time having won the Turner Prize with one of these it’ll have a value. It’s a question of finding people who are prepared to pay for it.

AB: So I need someone to externally validate it?

LT: The answer to your question is Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer was painting a fence as punishment and all his chums come up the hillside and they say, “Ha ha ha! You were made to paint the fence!” And Tom says, “You haven’t been asked to paint the fence have you?” Tom’s making them feel jealous about this painting the fence and in the end they’re desperate to paint the fence, which is a punishment basically, and Tom says “What are you going to give me if I let you paint the fence?” And so they end up taking coins out of their pockets and bits of orange peel and all the sorts of things that school boys have in their pockets in Mississippi in 1880. Gradually he’s building up this treasure trove of rubbish and they’re all objects that they’ve given up because they want to paint the fence. He’s turned the fence painting from a punishment into something desirable and it’s transacted with the stuff they have in their pockets. That’s the only answer I can give! It’s worth a painted fence!

AB: Great! Thank you very much.


Rubbish Conversation with Lars Tharp at the Hepworth, Wakefield, 19/01/14

Lars Tharp: You’ve brought in an installation. This is what I’d call an installation.

Alice Bradshaw: This is the Cuba Collection and this one is from Essen in Germany.

LT: How did these come about?

AB This one [The Cuba Collection] was collected by myself whilst I was over there on holiday and this one [The Essen Collection was sent over by a musician friend as part of a Ruhr Valley-Calder Valley exchange.

LT: OK. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a collection like this. This is basically someone’s rubbish bin, isn’t it?

AB: Yes, this one [The Essen Collection] is, but this one [The Cuba Collection] is from all over parts of Cuba; from Havana and the Cayo Coco Islands.

LT: This is the sort of thing that would have made it into the Opie Collection. He specialises in packaging and the history of packaging. His Museum used to be in Gloucester but now it’s in London in storage because it’s so massive.

So what you’ve brought is a time capsule. Is it just one person’s rubbish?

AB: No it’s multiple people’s; found on the beach and on the street. But this [The Essen Collection] is one person’s rubbish and these are just two collections from the entire Museum of Contemporary Rubbish.

LT: What a great name! The Museum of Contemporary Rubbish. Where does that hang out?

AB: It exists online. Most of the Collections are recycled and there’s only a couple of Collections that still exist in physical form. I document every single item and the blog features all the items and Collections.

LT: Now, what do you regard yourself as an anthropologist or as an artist?

AB: As an artist, but there’s certainly an anthropological inclination to my work.

LT: I’ve got a couple of books back there on collecting and the theory of collecting. I was reading a particular book yesterday; basically a very Marxian approach to why we collect things and why we have to own things – something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years – and I was struck by how much tosh there was in it! It’s all very convincing with lots of long words and pyschobabble but in the end these are all assertions. This is not scientific. You cannot say that because some collects this that they are anally retentive. I’m always suspicious that the longer the sentence and the more complicated the words the less the meaning there is. There I was eating my supper in the hotel writing “RUBBISH!” Ha!

I actually think this quite funny. Is this on exhibition somewhere?

AB: I do exhibit the Museum yes; last year in Chicago and a solo show coming up in Blackpool. I show them as the images. The only time I’ve shown the actual rubbish was my own Hoard which was every item of rubbish from my art practice that I collected during 2012.

LT: What was the name of the artist that took all of his own stuff and he shredded everything?

AB: Michael Landy. Break Down (2001).

LT: Yes. Which is the same sort of area isn’t it?

AB: Yes, definitely. I’m studying other artists’ use of rubbish and he’s one of the more well known artists through media prominence. It was a big statement to make. He destroyed absolutely everything he owned including other artists’ works he had collected.

LT: It’s fascinated stuff. Ordinary people reading the paper will say “this is not good!” and actually there is some serious stuff in there. I did archaeology so I’ve been specialising in rubbish! But of course it acquires a different status once it’s old there is that sort of nostalgia what I call nostalgia effect.

AB: And rarity too.

LT: Yes. We could talk about that for ages but sadly we don’t have time today. I’ll take a photo of this. I might use this because at the end of the day I’m going to blast some images at 4-5 o’clock and I might just show one or two things that came in and this has got to be in.



Rubbish Conversation with Lars Tharp at the Hepworth, Wakefield, 19/01/14

The Hepworth ran an #ICollect this weekend with Lars Tharp and I booked onto the Sunday morning session: WHAT IS IT WORTH?: “Ever wondered if you’re sitting on a small fortune? Bring in one or two objects from your ceramics, glass or oriental goods collection to learn more from BBC Antiques Roadshow expert, Lars Tharp.”

As Wikipedia details: “Wikipedia Lars Broholm Tharp is a Danish-born historian, lecturer and broadcaster, and one of the longest running ‘experts’ on the BBC antiques programme, Antiques Roadshow, first appearing in 1986. [..] He studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University.”

Archaeology is, essentially, studying old rubbish and you cannot study rubbish without studying anthropology to some degree, so this was a great opportunity to pick Lars’ brains about value, worth and rubbish.

I arrived at The Hepworth, booked in and took my ticket. The Hepworth staff were bemused by my collections and seemed also keen to see what Lars said about the value. The social media guy found me, got some pictures and we had a chat about rubbish in art. He recalled a show he’d seen at the Hayward last summer The Alternative Guide to the Universe with Congolese ‘Outsider’ artist Bodys Isek Kingelez who makes models of fantastical cities out of cardboard and discarded materials. Another one for the compendium!

Whilst I waited my turn in the room I’d previously curated Pecha Kucha Night Wakefield in a couple of years ago, Lars talked to other collectors about their pictures, glass ornamental vases and the like. People were beginning to fill up the space and as my turn was called he announced he would be speeding up the proceedings to fit everyone in. The following 10 minutes of conversation are transcribed in the following post.



Today I finished the 137 rubbish drawings for my newspaper.

Each of the artists’ works featured on my rubbish blog http://contemporaryrubbish.wordpress.com has been sorted into 2 piles: Thesis Pile and Newspaper Pile. Thesis Pile are works which I can relate to specifically through my own works and will discuss in my thesis, and Newspaper Pile are works which don’t have a direct correlation with my own work and are in a sense ‘rejects’ or ‘discards’ from this process now undergoing a recycling process.

I’ve drawn each work in the Newspaper Pile as a study as a way to confirm or reject my initial categorisation. Some works have been recategorised in this process.

The drawings will feature alongside found pieces of information under each rubbish category and it’s these 137 drawings I’ve finally completed.

Having started out drawing a couple from each rubbish category, I decided to batch draw them alphabetically according to category so the whole process was broken down into manageable chunks. Waste was the last category and Tomoko Takahashi’s My Play-station (2005) the last work in that category. (That is, unless I come across any more works before the newspaper page designs are laid out!) It’s an installation shot from the show at the Serpentine where the public where invited to come and dismantle to pile of rubbish and take away anything they wanted. Here’s some media coverage of the ‘Serpentine Take-Away’ from the time:




Currently watching: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2010) dir Sophie Fiennes.


These remains; his artistic leftovers that are individual site-specific works in their own right but also a mega sculpture park of one man’s practice in a defined period of time, have been abandoned. He has reportedly left them to the French state to do what they wish, currently fenced off from the public with a security guard and 3 dogs to keep watch. This film documents the making of Kiefer’s ruins.

Ruins seems the most appropriate category for this sculptural paradise Kiefer has left behind. On the one hand his artistic style renders the specifically made objects to look ruined (and hence the initial reason I was reluctant to categorise his work as rubbish at all) and on the other hand they have been abandoned to become overrun with weeds and returned to the former wasteland.

Kiefer cites mythological Lilith as being particular inspiring for the great concrete towers. Originally Lilith was a Jewish folktale and according to Isaiah xxxiv. I4-I5, Lilith dwells among the desolate ruins in the Edomite Desert where satyrs (se’ir), reems, pelicans, owls, jackals, ostriches, arrow-snakes and kites keep her company. The Bible mentions the Lilith only once, as a dweller in waste places (Isaiah 34:14) (ref Jewish Women’s Archive).

The film title is derived from the Lilith story. In 2001 Ardi Poels curated a show at Hidde Van Seggelen Gallery, London, with the same title Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow and says this: “Our understanding of Lilith’s words when Adam expulsed her from Paradise, evokes a twist: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow once meant to be an apocalyptic threat, can also be interpreted as an Arcadian prediction. In this scene from the Old Testament we can discern the three components of a dynamic triangle in the history of art: Lilith (the individual), Paradise (nature) and the city (the collective).”

Kiefer’s installation La Ribaute translates roughly to The Holliday (googletranslate) as in holyday noun. a day on which a religious observance is held (OED). The complex is also reportedly near a road called La Riboute in Barjac according to a blogger who tried to track La Ribaute down in an aptly named blog apieceoplastic.

Although this film remains as a trace of the process, I think Kiefer left La Ribaute to ultimately be discovered at a much later date, when, as the film title suggests in a literal sense, grass has overgrown to artist’s ‘city’. The French state could turn it into an amusement park of sculpture tourism if they wanted but I guess he was banking on them doing nothing in his lifetime. Kiefer in interview sounds keen to observe natural processes at play in his art and leaving elements to chance (such as the way a piece of glass shatters as he throws it to the ground or the way acid drips down the giant lead books). What could be more chance than letting nature and the elements take hold in amongst the concrete, lead and glass he has left?