Accumulation: the aesthetics of waste & recycling
In the Balance: Art for a Changing World
19 Aug 2010 – 31 Oct 2010
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
At the turn of the 20th century, the French photographer Eugène Atget depicted the figure of the chiffonniers, or ragpickers, to reveal the uneven development of capitalist modernity in urban settings. Though poor, ragpickers were not beggars but they were regarded as intransigent outsiders in the social system. In 1903, there were at least five thousand scavengers roaming through the terrain of the Parisian metropolis. The ragpicker gathered the overlooked: cans, bottles, paper and everything else wealthier inhabitants treated as rubbish that could be converted and reused. Some chiffonniers even paid concierges for the privilege of examining garbage before it was put out on the street.1 Atget also photographed scrap merchants living in shanty towns on the outskirts of Paris. The ragpicker’s masterful recovery of the overlooked became part of a cycle of reusing detritus.2 Their skilful sorting and accumulation of refuse became revelatory under Atget’s lens: a visual inventory of garbage.