Home / News / What artists can learn about society from our trash

What artists can learn about society from our trash

If you want to understand a society, study its trash, argues Gordon Knox, director of the ASU Art Museum, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.  

“The Pyramids of Giza, Teotihuacán, the Coliseum – all these built sites are a kind of bombast and braggadocio to each era. But if you want to know who people really were, if you want to know the texture of their lives, then look at what they threw away,” writes Knox. He goes on to discuss how artists, including Miguel Angel Ríos, Chris Jordan and Melanie Smith, are taking a close, sobering look at the garbage of today to understand deep secrets about our contemporary global society.

“Perhaps the most obvious, most devastating revelation of their work,” writes Knox, “is that the driving core of society today, everywhere, appears to be the carcinogenic belief that life is all about ‘me.’” Artistic work with our contemporary global society’s trash reveals a mania for instant gratification and convenience, and our lack of regard for the long-term ramifications of our disposable, resource-intensive lifestyles.

The article is part of a series on the Green Electronics Challenge, a joint project between the United States and China that, in Knox’s words, “looks to pack together the critical and innovative thinking of trained artists, the technological precision and predictive capacities of science, and the crowdsourced, wiki-solution base of the DIY movement to address ... waste produced by e-technology.”

To participate, U.S. and Chinese makers can create green solutions by repairing, upcycling or hacking electronic products, design new sustainable electronics products, or create artwork from e-waste. The competition is open until May 31, 2014; to learn more, visit http://www.greenelectronicschallenge.com.

Read the full article to learn more about how using art to explore trash can help us understand the essence of entire civilizations – including our own.

The Green Electronics Challenge is co-sponsored by ASU, Slate, the New America Foundation and Tsinghua University. Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.