One of the things that’s impressed me the most as I write about the different projects of INFLUX is the sheer variety—not just in terms of material, style, and artistic approach, but also in the fact that some art is created to exist for just a short time.
So far in our series we’ve profiled artists working with ceramics, wood, and metal. This week I’m excited to introduce you to two artists working with probably the most unusual material of any INFLUX project—trash—to create an eye-opening, surprisingly beautiful, and fleeting art installation.
Artist Profile: Alisan LeMay and Leah Miller
Leah Miller and Alisan LeMay are artists with a passion for sustainable design. They met while they were both graphic design students at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and graduated in 2014. “We’re both very interested in consumer habits, trash and what happens to it, and sustainability efforts,” explains Leah. “Out of that we created ‘Trash Talk.’”
Engaging viewers and inspiring change
“Trash Talk” is a temporary public art installation created to engage viewers in a conversation about the global impact of the trash crisis. According to Leah and Alisan, trash is a taboo subject that’s kept hidden under cupboards and in dumpsters where we don’t have to see it, smell it, or think about it. Through “Trash Talk” they bring the trash crisis out in the open in an effort to change how we as a society manage our waste.
INFLUX project: Trash Talk
As a form of performance art, “Trash Talk” existed for a just few hours. It took place on September 25th in the Cultural Corridor located between Classical and Central High Schools, as part of the “Rock the Block” a celebration sponsored by New Urban Youth along with The Avenue Concept and many other local youth and arts organizations.
In describing “Trash Talk,” Leah explains, “We collect trash from a specific site and display it based on what’s compostable, recyclable, trash, and also based on whether it’s plastic, wood, metal, or mixed materials.” The artists then artfully arrange the various pieces of trash on the ground along with “info-graphics” and statistics to engage and educate people about trash.
I began my experience of the installation where two bags of trash were placed on a bench. Each bag weighed 4.4 lbs., the average amount of waste a person creates every day. “If you thought about carrying that bag around with you all day long, you might be a little more conscious about how much waste you’re creating,” says Leah.
Next was a display that included items that can’t be recycled—pure trash—such as tennis balls, cushions, gloves, underwear, wrappers, pens, lighters, and bottle caps.
This was followed by an arrangement of organic waste—chicken bones, corn on the cob, banana peels, apple cores, piece of a granola bar, gum—with an info graphic stating that 60% of what we put in landfills is actually organic waste. As Alisan points out, “it doesn’t break down in the landfill the way composting does so it won’t have the same benefits.”
Another display of all plastic items arranged by color and type called attention to the startling fact that 90% of the trash in the ocean is plastic.
Cigarette butts arranged in the shape of a number 1 highlighted the fact that they are the #1 most littered item in the world. Alisan noted, “once they’re dropped into the environment, they release chemicals that go into the water supply.”
“We organize all the glass into the shape of a light bulb to show that recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a light bulb for four hours,” explains Leah.
The last display shows that out of the total waste generated in the U.S. in one year, 75% is recyclable; but out of that 75%, only 30% actually gets recycled. The message is clear: we can (and should) do better!
Hope for the future
Leah and Alisan are excited by the response they’ve gotten from people. “Some people who see us are like, ‘where are your orange jump suits,’” says Leah. “Other people want to help us by moving out of the way so we can reach the trash. The act of us just doing it in normal clothes gets people engaged and hopefully motivates them to do the same thing.”
The artists are committed to bringing “Trash Talk” to events and audiences as much as they can. “Maybe someday we’ll be a non-profit,” says Leah. “We think this project has a lot of potential to become much bigger, maybe even a brand of its own that can travel to other cities around the country.”
All of us here at The Avenue look forward to bringing “Trash Talk” back to Providence again. In the meantime, keep the trash talk going—and don’t forget to leave your comments here on the blog!