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Trash Culture

Objects and Obsolescence in Cultural Perspective


Edited By Gillian Pye

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, concerns about the environment and the future of global capitalism have dominated political and social agendas worldwide. The culture of excess underlying these concerns is particularly evident in the issue of trash, which for environmentalists has been a negative category, heavily implicated in the destruction of the natural world. However, in the context of the arts, trash has long been seen as a rich aesthetic resource and, more recently, particularly under the influence of anthropology and archaeology, it has been explored as a form of material culture that articulates modes of identity construction.
In the context of such shifting, often ambiguous attitudes to the obsolete and the discarded, this book offers a timely insight into their significance for representations of social and personal identity. The essays in the book build on scholarship in cultural theory, sociology and anthropology that suggests that social and personal experience is embedded in material culture, but they also focus on the significance of trash as an aesthetic resource. The volume illuminates some of the ways in which our relationship to trash has influenced and is influenced by cultural products including art, architecture, literature, film and museum culture.


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Randall K. van Schepen - The Heroic ‘Garbage Man’: Trash in Ilya Kabakov’s The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away 183


Randall K. Van Schepen The Heroic ‘Garbage Man’: Trash in Ilya Kabakov’s The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away Introduction The contemporary Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, known for his challenging installations that address social and political realities in Soviet and post- Soviet culture, once created a work created entirely out of the trash that he accumulated in his studio. Part of a series of works called Ten Characters (1972–1975), the piece was entitled The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away. Formed by simply letting the paper garbage that arrived at his studio amass into an overwhelming pile and then taking these objects and labelling and installing them, Kabakov’s lack of choice and discrimination were the work’s ironic modes of creation. Despite this seemingly cavalier creative process, The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away challenges much more than the traditional notions of conscious artistic programme and choice. In fact, in the light of the repressive atmosphere in which it was created, its humble materials and construction method disguise its larger purpose, which is to use its accumulated trash as a site of resistance to the Soviet state’s desire to control memory and history. The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away (see Figure 7) draws on a long tradition of using cast-of f materials in modern art. In 1912, Georges Braque pasted pieces of what Clement Greenberg later called ‘extraneous material’ onto the surface of a canvas (Greenberg 1961: 70). First using oilcloth with illusionistically printed images, then incorporating sand into...

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