(Pictured left, Susan shows us her collection in Kitchener, Ontario.)
You have the rest of October to see Susan Coolen’s eye-opening LITTER-ARTI exhibit in Kitchener, Ontario.
Tucked away in an alcove on the ground floor of the King Street city hall edifice, across from the revenue department, a trove of trash turned treasures awaits.
Coolen is a scavenger artist, who not only creates works of art from litter, but painstakingly sorts and catalogues all that she collects, identifying 50 different categories of litter for all to see.
Wall murals, chewing gum collages, sculpture, portfolios of photography and documentation of one artist’s fascinating voyage along life’s littered trail exposes all manner of tossed trash, abundant ear plugs being one of her most surprising finds.
Outside the gallery space, tree protection fences in the city’s amiable centre town bear the markings of Coolen’s creation. Hubcaps, lighters, plastic utensils and PET bottles are transformed with nothing more than Coolen’s hand, some lights, glue and store-bought twist ties. The art is not vandalized, although passersby frequently will help themselves to a lighter if it works, and Coolen fills in the gaps with replacements from her collection of found lighters on the day of my visit.
Trash to art projects have been launched to draw attention to littering, but I had to confess to Susan I have mixed feelings about them. Yes, I’m all for the reclamation, the re-use, the “nothing is wasted” framework that is the foundation for this art.
But is it possible that trash art gives the common litterer another excuse to throw garbage on the ground? This time the excuse would be “I’m doing something useful by providing art materials for trash artists.”
Susan laughs when I pose the question.
“The odd person would have that mindset but they would likely drop that litter anyway,” she said.
The whole point of her yearlong project has been to raise awareness and create an attitude shift, she explains.
“Everyone has been educated about litter,“ she says.
Coolen’s exhibit has fostered media buzz and civic pride while elevating litter up off the sidewalk and into the gallery of the Berlin Tower artspace.
“People do what they can get away with and if they know someone is watching and making note of it and don’t approve of it I think they are less likely to do it.”
Before her tenure ends, the artist wants to challenge local high school students to a snowball effect project of tidiness to clean their littered parking lot and “redeem themselves as a group.”
She will capture it all on film and in art and who knows, make them stars? At the very least ward them away from littering in their teens when the behaviour can suddenly take hold.
I trust the subject of litter in Susan Coolen’s hands. This project would work well in any city.
For more information: www.kitchener.ca/berlintowerartspace