Waste Land | Curated by Birgid Uccia

About the exhibition
07 Jun 2018 - 04 Aug 2018

The exhibition Waste Land is part of the biennial public diplomacy campaign “70 Years of Swiss-Indian Friendship: Connecting Minds – Inspiring the Future” of the Consulate General of Switzerland in Mumbai. Aiming to reinforce this friendship, the exhibition connects creative minds from fields as diverse as contemporary Indian art and Swiss waste management and technology. Cutting across these disciplines, the exhibition provides a platform for the exchange of innovative ideas and pioneering discoveries in both fields. 

The title Waste Land uses ‘waste’ as a generic term, covering a wide range of synonyms such as trash, garbage, refuse, junk, debris. It implies ‘waste’ as the verb that designates excessive squandering and the luxury our consumerist society has to do so. The title also refers to a deserted land, devastated by the depletion of resources through the sheer abundance of waste. Since the beginning of cultural history, waste has been an integral part of the functioning of socio-economic systems, whose evolution has culminated in the process of industrialization.  

In past decades, waste, long considered as something worthless to be discarded, has in many ways achieved the status of a sought-after raw material. Converted into a commodity through the process of recycling, waste is reinserted into the economic cycle, entering a new value chain. Pioneering efforts in countries such as Switzerland result in high technologies, promoting methods of waste treatment and resource efficiency that counteract the fallouts of our wasteful society. 

In India, where the economy of recuperation and recycling is still in its infancy, artists recognize waste as an artistic raw material. They aim for a transformation of the ambivalent relationship society has with waste. Whereas large parts of society still consider waste as ritually and hygienically impure, evoking disgust and repression, artists insert waste into the cycle of cultural production. They face the challenge of developing new techniques, ‘methods of treatment’ in the parlance of waste management, that allow for the transformation of rejected materials into works of art. Altering the process of deterioration by reversing it, the creation of aesthetic objects from waste reassigns value to something that has been doomed to oblivion.  

Waste is addressed as a phenomenon that holds collective memory and personal stories. It is by no means anonymous; indeed it tells us about the cultural practices of a society, demographics, the means of production and trends of consumption. However, the moment of transition of an object, from being useful into the stage of disuse, differs from culture to culture. Whereas a material might be discarded in a highly industrialized country, it might be still of value in an economically and technically less advanced country. The latter being more versatile and innovative, when it comes to dealing with meager resources, might extend the ‘systemic functionality’ of the material beyond the widely accepted limits. By restoring materials that have been rejected ‘to their lost dignity’, artists remind us that nearly every man-made object, including those made by machine, have the potential to turn into waste.