11/08/18
Brice Bunner
Environmental

Artists uses waste and degradation to prove a point. So, do you get it?

    

Image ©: Fabrice Monteiro via SmithsonianSocieties are messy. There, I’ve said it.

It’s proven time and again, and typically through war—we are wasteful. But there is another side to the mess that societies make which has—believe it or not—more atrocious ramifications than even warfare. 

Within society, however, there are voices who speak beautifully through these messes. In the same spirit as what Picasso did for war with his masterpiece, Guernica, a new artist uses waste and degradation to create moving masterpieces.

The question, however, is will it change public opinion at all? Time will tell, but here are some arguments to why it should.

Waste not want notImage ©: Fabrice Monteiro via Smithsonian

Maybe I’m being too simplistic here, but sustainability is decidedly anti-waste. It strives to close loops that create societal waste by extending the life of resources, reusing items for longer, and refurbishing or repairing things to give them more longevity. But more than just closing loops and reusing items, true sustainability is a lifestyle.

These amazing images made of our collective waste represent the deep ache of the artist seeing the shores of his home polluted. But, as with any artist, there is beauty in that ache—just as there is in Guernica. When effective, art promotes a visceral response which will long be remembered.

And, while Picasso was dealing with the tragedies of war, Fabrice Monteiro’s pain is just as forceful. In fact, it’s because of these images that the pain he feels finds purchase in our own psyche.

Many of us have become dulled to the images of waste washing up on foreign shores, choking birds and sea life—as if it’s too distant or too big a problem to deal with. But, in seeing these dramatic images of people entangled in—and becoming part of—the waste that threatens all of us, we are transported to a place much closer to home.

For me, and the folks at Sage, that “home” is sustainability. With the same longing that Fabrice Monteiro has to return to the days before the shores of his homeland were demarcated by ABS and PETE, we strive to return our world of technology to one free from e-waste and digital inequality. A place where the devices we throw away are instead passed on to those who need them.

The best of the worst

Electronic devices are amazing. They have revolutionized how we do business, changed our social interaction, and have even moved us through several ages within just a few short decades. But this progress comes at the price of massive mounds of toxic electronic waste. And therein lies the key word: waste.

Image ©: Fabrice Monteiro via SmithsonianThe idea of waste has been forgotten by modern society. It happened when designed obsolescence became the principle business model for our consumption. Waste, to the preindustrial world, was whenever you squandered the value which was intrinsic to the object being tossed. But because of this throw-away culture we live in, intrinsic value hurts our brains to think about. We are a completely linear economy that has been leaving its mark in the farthest recesses of earth since the mid-70s.

By using the actual waste to create beautifully haunting images, like those of Fabrice, we bring to mind the core value of things—the intrinsic value we’ve lost sight of. And, by using art, Fabrice and others create a ripple effect throughout culture.

Now, let’s see if I can shape this delineation for you: Art has the same potential to change people’s thinking as technology creates that change in a much less predictable way. Guernica, after all, is still molding people’s view of war a half century later. Technology may be much quicker at shifting our collective consciousness, but I’m not sure the results are as elegant.

This is not suggesting we look for ways to use the waste we create to make art—for fear that it would trivialize the poignancy of Fabrice’s artwork. Instead, his work should move us to be more mindful of what we do with the valuable items our culture calls “old.” The more we can capture this value, extend the life of these products we use, and recycle responsibly, the more these stirring images will become examples of a life that might have been, rather than a montage of our future.

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