Interview piece - The Creative Independent

On recycling ideas in your work

Visual artist Gavin Turk discusses recycling history and stories as well as physical things.

Why are artists so interested in trash?

I was picking up crumpled cans of pop soda cans off the street one day, and I thought, “Oh, these are cool.” You’ve got this 3D object that’s been flattened into a 2D piece. A bit of the back comes to the front, and a bit from the side goes around to the back. They almost feel Cubist. And they still have this advert on them. But is that can still advertising Coca Cola? It’s just been thrown on the street, and someone has come along and ran it over with their car, and now it’s dirty and filthy and almost rusted. Is it anti-promotion? Or is someone going to see it and still want a Coca Cola?

It’s almost like the yang to the yin of desire. On one side, we’ve got things people desire, and then on the other, we’ve got things people get rid of. I love the idea that we don’t just “place” stuff in the trash heap, we “throw” it. We have to somehow eject it in a forceful way so that we can see ourselves in some distance from that thing. But quite obviously, the thing really doesn’t go away. It’s still there, it’s just gone away from you and possibly got closer to other people or to other situations.

That’s why for me the fascination with waste seems to be about fascination itself. And it’s also so available. Everyone knows what trash is, but we don’t all know quite why we have to deal with it.

The thing is, the sweet liquid inside is kind of worth very little. Most of the cost is in the packaging. So really what you’ve brought is this aluminum can with all this special printed graphics and stuff like that, and the engineering that went in to make it and ship it. But everyone still thinks, “No. I don’t want that,” or, “I want this, the brown, sugary liquid inside, and the can I’ll just throw away.”

I got really excited about the idea of how to remind people of this system of desire and waste we sit in. That system, for me, can be told just by picking up a can on the street.

What about boxed water? It’s a huge thing in New York City right now. It’s become this, “Oh, we’re going to do something that’s elevated,” but it’s still just bottled water.

We don’t have boxed water. I don’t even know what that is. That’s a sort of tetra pack or something, is it?

[ Interview continues here ]