Differentiating a new style of trash-art from its masterworks may seem like a waste, but it’s clear the generation of artists included in Re:Purposed are expanding on what Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg pioneered. Readymades and assemblages have become relics of society’s upper-most classes, but this art represents more inclusive views. It’s different in that, instead of presenting collections of disparate elements like an assemblage, or abstractly subverting a self-evident meaning like a readymade, these works directly confront the systems which make repurposing possible by transforming elemental parts in to a homogenous whole.
Repurposing is a concept of income inequality that requires a wasteful class discarding materials later used by one too desperate and impoverished to purchase them. Like the art, the exhibition’s ambiguous title sets the stage for conversations surrounding what can be done about such inequality because it’s presented in the manner of an on-going digital correspondence. In this way, the title perfectly reflects both the materials these artists employ and themes they convey.
The artist in this exhibition who most overtly offers an answer to income inequality is Jill Sigman, who builds domiciles, which she calls “huts,” out of objects whose initial purposes were obviously not for construction. Microwaves, lawn flamingoes, trash bags, and, particular to this exhibition at The Ringling, advertisements from the circus comprise the walls and ceilings of her “huts,” and provide shelter while she and viewers occupy them. A mixture of sculpture and performance, Sigman’s work explicates the hidden effect of over-consumption by immersing herself and viewers in an environment most of us assume is relegated to the poorest parts of the world.
Other artists in the exhibition emphasize homogeneity in order to discuss income inequality. Specifically, the works of Daniel Rozin and Alyce Santoro seamlessly merge seemingly disparate and unequal elements in transformative ways that completely blur the lines between what’s expansive and what’s cheap. Rozin’s “Trash Mirror No. 3” (2001 – 2011), uses sensors and cameras to flip small pieces of trash upward and downward to depict viewers’ bodies and faces. Viewers see themselves in surprising resolution, which catches the imagination because it’s almost unbelievable how plastic bottles and coffee cups can effectively supplant the latest DSLRs and camera-phones. Similarly, Alyce Santoro’s fashionable dresses, hats, and handbags made from the spooled magnetic tape found in audio cassettes are chic, gorgeous, and would assuredly be worn by the same people who purchase couture gowns. The magnetic tape is so astoundingly tightly interwoven that it looks like canvas or some kind of tarp, and in no way resembles something someone would throw away. Both artists employ materials arguably from the lowest and least needed segments of the economy in novel, nothing less than magical artworks that see their individual elements completely transformed.
Overall, Re:Purposed can be seen as a hopeful allegory for a more equal and evenly distributed economic future. The artists included in the exhibition have clearly found something new by exploring the idea of combining things we’ve bought and no longer need, and in the process, have made the best of a bad situation.