Art and Aesthetics of Waste, panel convened by Pyyhtinen, Olli and de la Fuente, Eduardo: “Declutter, Donate and Transform Lives”: On Op Shop Metaphysics

It is not uncommon for contemporary artists to work with trash. In the hands of artists, scrap metal, rubber, paper, glass bottles, human feces, and other kinds of waste may occasionally turn into works of art. But there is also an art and aesthetic to waste beyond fine arts for example in the energetic vitality and curious ability of waste to animate and produce effects; in the role that senses and material ‘hapticity’ play in how we deal with waste; in how practices like recycling, zero waste, and dumpster diving may be situated within the ‘arts of existence’; in the beautiful order produced by the technology of containment; and in how the piling mountains of trash of deserted landfills may turn into aesthetically pleasing nature-cultures and recreational areas. The panel will explore the arts and aesthetics of waste as they manifest in both professional and vernacular creativities, cultures of making/repair, and cultures of consumption/valuation. It will deal with the ongoing historicity of waste materials as they flow, pile up, mix, and mutate; how they are sorted out, binned, transported, processed, extracted, and transformed into something else; and whether we could accept waste as such, beyond the utopian fantasies of its eternal redemption.

de la Fuente, Eduardo: “Declutter, Donate and Transform Lives”: On Op Shop Metaphysics

Op Shop metaphysics combine the seriousness of Titmuss’ ‘gift economy’ with the pleasures of Benjamin’s urban flânerie and Marie Kondo’s ethos of “decluttering’. Central to the success of the symbolic and material economy in question are the volunteers who donate their free-labour, and who undertake the important work of classifying, pricing, organizing displays and (not to be underestimated) who engage customers in “small talk’. In this presentation, I reflect on the paradoxical position of the thrift or Op Shop as both space for disposing of things and as space where people spend leisure-time/buy or collect things. I examine the fragile material and psychic textures of the thrift or Op Shop which, when successful, fuse ‘gifting’, ‘disposing’, ‘curating’ and ‘re-valuing’. But it is a space which, nonetheless, is haunted by the disorder of excessive waste and/or sensory overload.

Kupari, Essi: Turning a Landfill into Wildlife

The presentation takes as its empirical object Vuosaarenhuippu, which is a deserted landfill located in Helsinki. I examine the multispecies process in which the former

landfill becomes and is enacted as nature, rich in life. As an architectural artefact and nature culture, Vuosaarenhuippu metamorphoses into nature with time. Georg Simmel has shed light into this very same process in his text The Ruin, suggesting that, with their tendency to fall into decay, artefacts reveal the characteristic unity of nature and culture. Interestingly,

neither the area nor its aesthetic values are created by humans alone, but involve various non-humans in their constitution and planning. The goal of the Vuosaarenhuippu project seems to be pure, unspoiled nature, but how to hide the human fingerprint?

Pyyhtinen, Olli & Lehtonen, Turo-Kimmo: Senses as Epistemic Devices in the Art and Aesthetic of Dumpster Diving

The presentation deals with the art and aesthetic of dumpster diving for food. Because the food waste found in the containers, often placed in supermarket backyards, is not yet actual edible food, dumpster divers in search of cast-off bounty cannot know for sure that the materials they encounter in the polyphonic assemblage of different rhythms of spoilage are good to take home. In the presentation, we examine how dumpster divers use their senses as epistemic devices to assess whether an item is still edible or has gone off. They may inspect the items both visually and haptically, carefully feeling their surface and softness, but they also may smell them and occasionally even taste them there by the containers, though more often than not taking a bite only at home when the food has been cleansed and put on the plate. In addition, we suggest that a skilled dumpster diver has learned to become affected by the differences that they register in the items, able to tell good items apart from bad ones. A novice, by contrast, lacks the sensibility to differences and is in that sense inarticulate.

Kinnunen, Veera: Art of Living with Waste

This presentation focuses on the aesthetic craft of living with waste through a specific form of everyday waste treatment: Bokashi Composting. Bokashi composting is an ancient Asian means of fermenting food waste and turning it quickly into nutritious soil. During the recent decade, the method has been quickly expanding in the urban, Western world.

Bokashi as a practice challenges the prevailing modern waste relations in many respects. Unlike typical modern waste practices, which are often characterized by sense of duty and guilt, bokashi is marked by playfulness, experimentation and curiosity. In bokashi practice, waste matter is something that is not merely taken care of out of duty, but something to be thoroughly and joyfully engaged with. Through the case of Bokashi composting it is possible to examine, what is it to “care humanly without thinking that humans are the most important thing in the picture” (Shotwell 2016).  Thus, bokashi practice can work as a route to understanding and rearranging our relations with waste.

Drawing from my multispecies sensory ethnographic fieldwork, I seek to explore the multisensory, aesthetic experience of living with bokashi. The central question I pose in this presentation is: how does practicing bokashi affect knowing (epistemology), being (ontology), and living (ethics) in the world.

Lehtokunnas, Taru: Living a better life by reducing food waste – insights into ethical subjectivity in the context of household food waste practices

The current ecological crisis forces us to rethink our wasteful food consumption practices. In this research, I explore the constitution of ethical subjectivity in the context of household food waste reduction practices by applying Foucault’s conception of arts of existence. The material of my research consists of food waste diaries collected from Finnish households. Drawing from Foucault’s idea that to become ethical subjects we need to constitute ourselves as works of art, I suggest that transforming our food consumption practices is a constant process and a quest for living a better life.