On Dying Ships and City-Cleaning Heroes: An exhibition in Basel illustrates our relationship with waste.
Even Jean Tingley used waste in his facilities and machinery. The artists in the exhibition “Waste Zones” at the Tanglei Museum take a different approach: they want to make it possible to experience how waste and pollution are created.
For example, there is a video of a waste incineration plant near London. Strange photo: a group of people sitting in an office with a panoramic window. A landscape of trash rising behind the huge pane of glass. A pair of tongs spin and fan the blocks so everything doesn’t get hot and catch on fire.
British artist Eloise Houser was fascinated by the facility and its apparent spatial division into two areas – clean and dirty. “Sort of a shared identity emerges,” says Eloise Hawser, a perfect symbol of how we treat waste. After all, hardly anyone knows what happens in the incinerators and what they look like from the inside.
Bringing out the invisible, naturally and tangibly: this is exactly what all the artists in the gallery are about. Her videos, installations and photographs are all about the waste of our consumer society: polluted water, air pollution and damaged landscapes.
The time frame covered by the display at the Tinguely Museum is particularly interesting. Contemporary attitudes are associated with works from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
“There was a shift compared to the 1960s,” says curator Sandra Pyatt Rayman. Today’s artists have shown that the greatest waste and pollution occurs not only after consumption, “but actually when raw materials are mined or when products are manufactured in other countries.”
container ship end
Waste is also generated when products are disassembled again. This work is illuminated by a video by Pakistani artist Hira Al Nabi. In her 30-minute film, she shows how workers on a beach in Pakistan use the simplest tools to dismantle old container ships. They work for starvation wages and risk their lives.
Nabi combines documentary recordings, interviews with workers, and fiction. This is how the dying ship speaks. She speaks in a female voice about the fish that were here and about the asbestos that will accumulate in the workers’ bodies. In this way, Naby manages to accomplish the portrayal of a brutal industry in a touching film.
A waste of the poor
This also has a political dimension: whoever removes garbage and where nature is destroyed through over-exploitation always reflects social conditions.
The work of American artist Merle Laderman Euclides from the 1960s and 1970s shows how radically art can question these social conditions. As a young mother, she declared in a statement that changing diapers and cleaning the kitchen was also an art.
Later, she developed shows about cleaning up New York City. From 1979 to 1980, within eleven months, she shook hands with all 8,500 employees at her workplace and thanked them for keeping New York alive. Just a small gesture – but it still has great symbolic power today.
The exhibition “Waste Lands” can be seen at the Tinguely Museum in Basel until January 8, 2021.