My Zen teacher often says, "There is no 'away'" when he is talking about the notion of throwing away what we call trash. There is no away. Everything ends up somewhere even if it is out of our line of sight. So what, exactly, is going in our minds when we throw something "away"? There is some subtly conscious disconnect that happens that allows us to believe that this thing - piece of plastic or paper or whatever - is going away. Does it disappear? Not really. Once you realize this, become aware of it, it makes throwing things "away" a rather heavy burden. I almost wish I could go back to not knowing, not being aware. (Sorry, now I have spoiled it for you!)
For the past 13 summers, there has been a big writer's festival in Woody Point, a small community within the boundaries of Gros Morne, the national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is about 1.5 hours drive from here. Since 2015 or so, they have hosted an art exhibition concurrently and these have proved to be very welcome and successful. This year, the exhibition will be titled Salvage and I proposed to make a new project for it. I have been collecting the trash that has washed up on Gillams beach and I am making nine small artworks with it, along with some items that I have collected from yard sales that also could be categorized as cast-off or no longer of value. My piece is called Containment.
After I collected the beach debris, I washed it to clean it up. As I was doing that simple act, I felt almost like I was caring for a little pet or even a child that no one else wanted. It was all just stuff that got blown in, tossed in, washed into the bay - plastic tags from fishing traps, nets, plastic shopping bags, chip bags, soda cans, tampon applicators. I mean, it's trash. But there it is and by giving it a scrub, caring for it, I changed it somehow.
As I have been making the works, I feel a real reverence for each piece that I include. I am reminded of an instruction that I received about how to arrange flowers on the altar in the meditation hall - consider each flower and place it so it can best reveal itself. I am really interested in how materials and objects contain experience so the challenge is to help bring that out, communicate something about it, while also making something visually interesting and....how to say it? I am not the first person to make collages from beach debris. There is a look to that kind of work. Or, I have an notion of what it might look like based on seeing things in the past. I have been actively aware of trying to make something that looks new and fresh, not so much "like" something else. Not sure if I have succeeded on any of these fronts but it sure has been fun to try.
The festival and exhibition will be on view from August 15th to 20th in the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. If you are lucky enough to have scored some tickets, please check it out!