I’m fascinated by the trash cans in artist’s studios. They often have a rare level of truly disgusting filth in them, and usually some rotting yogurt or something too. Why, you might ask, is there a higher level of disgusting to many an artist’s trash can than others household or office trash cans? My theory is that artist’s use everything that could be used, scrap paper, things we’ve pulled out of other people’s trash (Hey! this is a perfectly good piece of foam/tupperware container/colorful piece of string!), sawdust, iron filings…and too, many of us are really tired at the end of a day, and so taking out the trash is generally not something I do very often unless its stinking or nothing more can be added to it due to being overfull. That last part is an exaggeration and I do know some extremely fastidious artists. Also, many studios have mice, or other small vermin and so some artist’s do not have the luxury of leaving their trash lying around. Also, about the yogurt, many artist studios don’t have sinks, and so there can be a pain in the butt factor to properly rinsing something out, that, at the end of your work day you can’t be bothered with.
Anyway, it’s often a unique kind of messy, the inside of an artist’s trashcan. Take a peek on your next studio visit occasion, or look at your own trash a little closer. Look in the trash of many households or offices, and you will see the commonplace items like dental floss, q tips, unwanted notes and packaging.
When there is a lot of one thing: plastic bread tags, rubberbands, tiny dots of hole punch litter, and other discards, both kids and artist’s take notice.
There’s a kind of abundance to something collecting, and it becomes a kind of texture or pattern that can capture the creative imagination. Likely, I’m overlaying my own worldview onto other artists when that’s probably not the case for many. And probably, I’m more of a lazy slob than most. Some people may only allow into their studio the highest quality materials and someone else takes out their trash. Others might only work with plants, or single objects, but this is my theory about artist’s trashcans.
As for me, there’s always been a desire to reuse what I already have, to make a new discovery in an unlikely place, and to work with what’s already around. I do this with the Death Books and my other handmade artist’s books, I did this when I made Help me [ ], do the thing. from bits of other art projects, when I collage, make most kinds of sculptures like the Three Variables series and Offering Shelf.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.