‘Garbage’ measures human nature?

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.

5 thoughts on “‘Garbage’ measures human nature?

  1. This notion of taking something away and leaving something behind of equal value stops me in my philosophical tracks. What would our world be like if we extended this practice to numerous parts of our everyday lives. As consumers, we tend to leave behind paper bills or electronic swipes into credit card devices — we don’t actually leave anything that resembles what we have taken. Oh yes, I know, Locke reminds us that we store up the value of things in money, but really (as they love to say on SNL), really, think about it. Think about transforming all of our taking into taking AND leaving. Wonderful idea.

  2. Help me here I’m not an anthropologist but Libroion’s exhibit brings to mind a Native American-Canadian-culture centered around gift-giving. Members of this culture lived along Canada’s northwest coast and went by boat to each others’settlements to exchange gifts-of like value. That was their way of life. 1600’s? 1700’s? The gifts were valued and/or needed items like blankets, pipes, food, decorative art.

    • Hi Mae.
      I think you’re thinking of the Haida potlatch, which was frequently seen as a gift-giving ceremony (or alternatively a wasting ceremony) by White anthropologists. It was banned for a long time, but it was a competitive political engagement & feast rather than a strictly generous/socialist gift ceremony.

  3. I am a student in Professor Eric Friedman’s class on Sociology of Garbage and in reading this piece, I wondered from a consumer’s perspective – what piece of myself would I leave behind. Odd to think that we don’t leave a piece of ourselves behind each time we throw a piece of garbage on the street or out of the window of a moving car. So to walk into a museum and see a piece of art that I can purposely take and then leave a piece of myself behind really makes me think – what would I have that would make a statement about myself? I think it’s a wonderful concept but not to play the devil’s advocate, how many pieces of used tissue and credit card or cash receipts will be left in the place of these minuture pieces and does it really matter?

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