Project: Trash Talk

Learning what happens to our garbage, how we can improve the system, and how we can spread the word 

Students were given the choice of food pathways or waste pathways as a sculptural topic, this particular section chose waste pathways. This introductory discussion was designed to indicate the level of depth of research and identify some possible issues to get them started. In this we:

·      Discussed what we initially knew about waste pathways, systems, and reasons behind it

·      Discussed contemporary social practice strategies, including IDEO and Appreciative Inquiry, cultural creatives and TED talks, Project M and Human-centered Design, and specifically Edward de Bono and Divergent Thinking (the thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions).

·      Identified clichés, habits, and trendy topics to know and avoid

·      Every student left with an assignment to research an issue more thoroughly and ideate a creative method of communication for it (budget, time, and resources were not limited in this, as it was based on Appreciative Inquiry)

·      Every student was also given a secret word, ostensibly specific to each student, that should be part of their research (based on Project M)—unbeknownst to them, every one received the German phrase, “etwas besonderes,” (translated, something unusual). The idea behind this was to discourage linear ideation and encourage divergent thinking, and the students admitted that they were challenged and provoked by its inclusion.

Refining (Discussion # 2): We met in a café in Shriver (outside of our usual meeting place). We discussed their research and ideas. Most ideas, as they were generated without limits, were exciting yet challenging regarding practicality, however they provided the base for a proposal. From the research, myths about recycling prevailed, so I offered to set up a field trip to Rumpke’s Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Cincinnati.


Field Trip: We toured the Rumpke MRF and took video, spoke to workers, and asked questions—again, no limits were placed on questions, and those that were asked were provocative. Topics included the myths surrounding bio-degradable plastics, the dearth of industrial composters, hypocrisy in recycling, and the reality of the market. On the way down and back (about an hour each way) we discussed the issues further and decided that the best way to communicate such complexity would require:

{C}·      {C}a one-on-one discussion with the viewer/particiapnt of the work

{C}·      {C}turning the passive viewer into an active, contributing participant

{C}·      {C}an understanding of the demographic of the viewer/participant

{C}·      {C}a discussion with a diverse viewership/participation

{C}·      {C}the extension of generosity to build trust

{C}·      {C}a way to document the interaction


Instructor presentation (Discussion #3): Based on the above six suggestions of best practices of communication gleaned from the field trip, I presented work by artists who work in a dialogical, participatory, and relational aesthetic mode. I also discussed the terms dialogical and relational aesthetics. The contemporary artists discussed included Futurefarmers, Nance Klehm, SPURSE, WochenKlausur, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ben Kinmont, and Harrell Fletcher. After further discussion, the students decided to host a pancake breakfast. 

Development (Discussion #4): the group listed their ideal “viewers” by type, contacted individuals, designed and laser cut invitations, decided on a recipe (inclusive of special food needs), researched a site off campus, negotiated its rental, and secured the ingredients and cookware to create the event. They also created signage about recycling, an acceptable/not-acceptable table, gifts made from recyclables (wallets from fused plastic bags), sewed napkins, and a video of the MRF. They designed the event to be free for all involved, as long as they sat with someone they did not know and spoke of waste pathways. Here is the invitation they sent to their viewers:


Event: The two hour event was preceded by students showing up at the Community Arts Center at 7 am, setting up tables, covering them with paper for writing on (a practice of IDEO), setting up the video, and setting up the kitchen. The breakfast ran for two hours. Students cooked amazing pancakes and sat with and spoke to community members as all documented ideas on the table tops.


De-Brief/Critique: after cleaning up, we met again later during normal class time. I set up the griddle and cooked pancakes for all of them while discussing the project, its theoretical underpinnings, its intended effect, and the feedback we had received. We used the table-cloths as points of reference for discussions. It was decided that the event was more akin to contemporary art and social practice in its dialog-based method and broke from traditional, isolated, item-based work of the past. We reviewed the process that took us to the event, mapped it, and observed that it was anything but linear. The map was too complicated to assist anyone if they would ever want to create a similar work, it was only appropriate to see where we had come from, and each path taken was due to unscripted events and the individual gifts of the group.