Artist Sorting Through London Museum’s Trash

A recycling facility artist Joshua Sofaer toured in preparation for his garbage-collecting exhibition, "The Rubbish Collection," at London's Science Museum. Photo: Jennie Hills, courtesy the Science Museum, London.

British artist Joshua Sofaer is collecting all the trash produced by London’s Science Museum this month for his environmental awareness-focused exhibition “The Rubbish Collection,” reports the Guardian.

The artist has invited the public to help him collect and sort through every single piece of trash produced by the museum over a 30-day period as part of the institution’s Climate Changing program, which highlights environmental and ecological issues. Sofaer is finding that people are very invested in participating in the project.

“There are personal stories in every single bag,” Sofaer told the Guardian. “We’ve found £5.08 ($8.61) in cash so far, so we are getting a piggy bank to see how much real money is thrown away.” The artist is expecting to sort through a total of around eight and a half tons of waste, including exhibition materials, paper and cardboard, kitchen waste, museum-goers’ food wrappers, and, last but not least, sewage.

The artist’s enduring interest in people’s interaction with trash is a multi-faceted critique of consumer culture and, at times, the art market. Sofaer says, “I hope that by actually handling the waste, something shifts. When we put something in the bin it disappears from our consciousness, but at an atomic level it never disappears; it just gets transformed.” Confronting a month’s worth of waste from a single institution should cause people to reconsider their outlook on the value of contemporary art, environmental responsibility, and hygiene.

“The Rubbish Collection” is not Sofaer’s first time using trash as a component of his artwork. His previous projects include giving members of the public clues to collect trash around London for “Scavengers” (2005) at Tate Modern and working with catadores—human trash scavengers—during a three-month project in Brazil.

Sofaer’s project is reminiscent of another social justice-informed, environmentalist-minded artwork, Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project, a large-scale fabric work that critiqued the growing problems of global warming and oceanic plastic trash at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, in 2010 and 2011.

Rubbish sorting is on through July 15. Sofaer’s findings will be on view at the museum July 25–September 14. 

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