Prolific Canadian artist Max Liboiron has a new show at the AC Institute in New York through October 16. Called The New York Trash Exchange, it creates a tiny world from cast-offs, then invites viewers to take it away piece at a time — so long as they replace what they take with something of equal value. As with much of Liboiron’s work, it uses trash to question notions of exchange and playfully challenges assumptions about economic relationships. She shows us that maybe we can relate to each other through forms of generosity and balance, rather than through greed. In a way, her work proposes an entirely optimistic alternative to Garrett Hardin‘s famous ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’

Liboiron is also working on her PhD at New York University, where she is exploring garbage ‘management’ (or lack thereof) and its connection to issues of definition and containment. Her focus includes nineteenth-century New York, twenty-first century oceans, and the ‘body burdens’ of toxics now thought to be shared by all living things. It’s an ambitious and sobering project, made all the more compelling because Liboiron comes at it as an artist, not just as a scholar.