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Columns : Art Life - Susan Mackay Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Junk Art
By Susan Mackay
Oct 19, 2006 - 4:01:09 PM

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Junk Art

I walked home after taking the children to school this morning. It was one of those glorious mornings where everything felt born anew. The sky was alight and infinite blue and birds were calling insistently. I felt pockets of cool air not yet embraced by the sun.

I enjoy those moments of peace after the morning school rush. The grass drenched in dew, the sun splashes on it and everything suddenly shimmers with a million diamond lights. Every blade of grass and even every abandoned piece of trash randomly dumped to the ground. The dew is not prejudiced and beautifies everything. My initial response to the trash is sadness; such a beautiful morning and island, tainted by this scourge.

Once home, I think about trash. I remember my excitement, not long ago discovering a pile of discarded wooden palettes on an empty plot of land around the corner from my home. At Art College, one of our first year projects had been to design and make an ergonomically efficient chair from an old palette. It was a fun, challenging and satisfying project. On a recent trip to Nassau I was fascinated to see how these very same palettes were used to make fences and hurricane shutters. The idea of re-cycling for art is not new.

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) blazed into the art world in 1913 with his ‘found objects’, bringing discarded functional and manufactured items into the rarefied world of art, was to say the least, provocative. In 1917 Duchamp exhibited “Fountain” a ‘ready-made’ (his term for ‘found objects’ or ‘object trouve’). It was a urinal that he signed R.Mutt – the name of the manufacturers. From that point a shift, a schism was created in the art world, now artists could look at every object equally and with a potential and energy beyond the apparent and provoke a different understanding of an object beyond its original use.

This is considered ‘art’ because:
1. The process of selecting an object is understood to be a creative act.
2. By presenting the object in a gallery and possibly modifying it, cancels its original function and now defines it as something new - a piece of art.
3. In giving the work a title, it offers the audience a novel thought, a fresh perception and insight into the artist’s vision for the piece.

Many artists then followed Duchamps lead and not only were found objects exhibited, but also
‘assemblages’ (sculptures that were created out of a number of ‘found objects’). This diverse aspect of art has flowered into a multitude of interpretations.

Cornelia Parker (1956) is creating the most beautiful and exciting conceptual art with carefully selected objects. Objects that may have one traditional interpretation, by modifying, presenting in a stunning way and titling with consideration, the objects are magically transformed into something familiar yet exciting and incredible.
As quoted by Wikipedia, she explains…..“I resurrect things that have been killed off... My work is all about the potential of materials - even when it looks like they've lost all possibilities”.

Using found objects or trash continues to be an exciting idea. Not only is it an unending resource – our consumerist tastes so greedy that the quantity of trash per person per lifetime is obscene. Therefore by re-using and looking again at the intrinsic value of something that has been discarded can, to some degree, relieve our environment from the weight of our insatiable appetite for ‘things’.

In Japan, one artist has collected thousands of discarded chopsticks and created the most compelling sculptures. I even remember as a child every Christmas making tree decorations out of a plethora of junk. Every primary school teacher understands the unending possibilities of empty bottles, newspapers, yogurt pots, etc.

Life today has become so disposable and I am not alone in being seduced by the glossy feel of ‘want’. Art shows us how we can ALL view the stuff in our lives and worlds with a new curiosity and respect. Then dispose of or re-use appropriately.

The idea of creating art out of trash is a huge breath of optimism. There is something very profound about recognising the potential and the potential beauty of something discarded and ‘worthless’. How wonderful to imagine transforming the ugly refuse of our lives into something shimmering, ironically much like the plastic cup sprinkled with morning dew.

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Art Life - Susan Mackay
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