Territories of Waste
On the Return of the Repressed
5 June – 5 September 2021
The current planetary crisis has ensured that the proliferation of environmental pollutants has once more become a focus of artistic practice, alongside climate change and mass extinction. The group exhibition Territories of Waste at Museum Tinguely focusses attention on this contemporary artistic engagement and asks where such discussions are taking place today, as well as taking a new look from this perspective at the art of the second half of the twentieth century. The group show is intended as an accumulation or gathering of many voices that takes the dynamically mixed quality of waste seriously as a structuring concept. The exhibition landscape that spreads out from a central point is connected by six main themes that run through it like a network.
In the 1960s, the artists of Nouveau Réalisme and Junk Art (including Jean Tinguely) reflected the profound social and economic shift from post-war deprivation to a society based on consuming and throwing away by using trash and scrap metal as materials in their work. Whereas in the 1960s, the rubbish piling up at landfill sites and carelessly disposed of in nature was highly visible, today, in the western parts of the globalized world, it is largely invisible. A sophisticated waste economy relieves us of garbage and dirt, and of the remnants of our consumer lifestyle. Sorted, removed, burned, cleaned, composted, recycled, deposited in disused mines, exported – what we discard does not cease to exist, but it is out of our way.
In contemporary discourse and artistic practice, there is a focus on the hidden and repressed ecological, geological and global conditions of our consumerism. This has been accompanied by increased public awareness of the invisible micro-dimension of waste. The omnipresence of such micro-pollutants in air, soil, water and ice and in living organisms around the world – even in regions where humans have never set foot – has made a lasting impact on the way we think about nature. Today, particular interest is being focussed by artists on the territorial movements of waste within colonial geographies. Alongside the global aspects, geological factors are also being highlighted, a “geospheric” focus that reflects on the ecological dimensions of raw material extraction, especially in mining.