A history of waste in Art

At TerraCycle, our ambition is to eliminate the idea of waste: we consider waste to be a resource and think that everything we throw away can have a second life. We are not the only ones to have this vision: many artists are using discarded objects and waste in their pieces of art. Today, we throw light on those artists, who are also contributing, in their own way, to eliminating the idea of waste.

“Ready-made” & Dada: the beginnings of the use of waste in art

To understand better the history of waste in art, we should start with the “Ready-made” movement that emerged in France in the early 20th century. The principle is that an artist makes a piece of art from a manufactured object, just by giving it a title and exhibiting it in a museum. The object is given a new life by becoming a piece of art, challenging conventional notions of art and beauty.

 

The French Artist Marcel Duchamp was the first to use the “Ready-made” concept. Fountain, created in 1917, is made from an upside down porcelain urinal, and was recognized as the most controversial piece of art of the 20th century. A bit later, Pablo Picasso also used manufactured objects in his work, such as a bicycle seat and handlebars, to create the sculpture Bull’s Head. For a few more examples, you can look at the work of some artists from the Dada movement (Man Ray, Francis Picabia), who have also used  discarded objects in their art.

The second half of the 20th century: “Junk Art” and New Realism

Thus, the use of waste in art reflects the evolution of society and art. Free from the obligation to represent noble subjects (religion, mythology, portrait, landscape…), artists began to draw their inspiration from more trivial sources such as waste and discarded objects. During the second half of the 20th century, artists were increasingly using those new materials in their works, founding the artistic movement “Junk Art” or “Recycled Art”.

In the sixties, the expansion of the society of consumption inspired the famous Franco-American artist Arman. In his series entitled Accumulations, he aggregated trash in airtight glass boxes. By including discarded items in his work, the artist highlights a society in which everything is disposable after a single use.

During the same period, Daniel Spoerri, from the art movement “New Realism”, fixed the leftovers of a friend’s dinner to the table, calling the piece “Snare-Pictures”. They are objects found in a random position and fixed as they are, vertically. Daniel Spoerri is permanently capturing a volatile moment and demonstrating that art can be made from dirty dishes, used napkins, broken wine bottles and even cigarette butts.

Daniel Spoerri

Another artist that was inspired by waste is the French artist César Baldaccini. In his work, he compressed discarded objects such as newspapers, fabric, cans or even cars. These sculptures represent the huge quantity of waste inevitably generated in our society of consumption. This compression process invites us to question our consumption behaviours and reflect on what we will leave to future generations.

The contemporary artists

Following the path of their predecessors, a lot of contemporary artists are now using waste as a new raw material. In the artistic project Wasteland (2008-2012), Vik Muniz uses the trash from the  world’s largest landfill in Rio to create a piece of art.

Vince Hannemann is another artist who was inspired by trash. Since 1989, this artist originally from Austin in Texas, has been building a Cathedral of Junk in his garden. He started by collecting discarded objects and trash to build  this massive structure step by step, and today people bring him waste directly instead of throwing it away. The Cathedral of Junk is 10 meters high and is as impressive  outside as it is inside. You can walk around, and access different floors through the concrete stairs. Many items have also been painted or transformed to create a sense of harmony in the Cathedral, which has become a testimony to 30 years of hyper-consumption.

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Cathedral of Junk, Vince Hannemann

Finally, at TerraCycle we also value the work of local artists who are using littered items in their art. For example, in our US office in New Jersey, the artist Ede Sinkovics created a portrait of Abraham Lincoln from cigarettes butts!

Abraham Lincoln_Ede Sinkovics
Abraham Lincoln, Ede Sinkovics

What do you think of art work made from waste? Do you know artists that include waste in their art work? If you do, please let us know!

Written by Camille Chirat, Brand Partnership Executive

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