“Produce No Waste” – A Creative Perspective

Each month I meet online with a group of folk from near and far, some of whom I have met in real life but most who I haven’t. We come together to talk about art, imagination and Permaculture. To think about how our creative practice may help shape our Permaculture practice, and vice versa.

For each gathering we take one of the Permaculture principles by David Holmgren and use it as a starting point for discussion and thinking. Last night our principle was “produce no waste” which took us on a wide ranging and thought provoking journey exploring what waste means in our work, how we respond to waste, and how artists and creatives may tell stories around the huge challenges we have as a species around overconsumption and waste.

It would be impossible to capture the conversation that we had in writing, but here are some artworks that we looked at as we spoke which shaped our conversation about the different things that we mean when we talk about waste, and the ways that these ideas may manifest in everyday life.

Paradise by Kae Tempest

The best summer of my life‘ – Kae Tempest takes Sophocles on a gender odyssey

We do we mean when we talk about waste in our creative practice and how does it make us feel? How can we create work that is less wasteful? And are there moments when it may be better not to create art at all?

Jenny Odell – How to Do Nothing

In How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, the artist, writer and Stanford professor Jenny Odell questions “what we currently perceive as productive”. She wants to give readers permission to be a human, in a body, in a place.

How do we feel when we waste time in our work? How can we make more time? How can we feel that we have got enough time? Or make better use of the time that we have got?

Pina Bausch – Kontakthof

Dancers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the industrial town of Wuppertal in Germany in order to audition for a place in Pina Bausch’s company. So it’s not surprising that when Bausch advertised in 1998 for a new cast to revive her show Kontakthof, 120 men and women showed up. The difference was that all the applicants were local, most were over 60 and none had ever appeared on the professional stage before.

What is the human “waste” within different creative work? How are people of different ages perceived as no longer being useful or relevant within different creative practice? How can practice be more inclusive of all?

Michael Landy – Breakdown

Artists have been known to destroy their own work and even to kill themselves, but usually it is in a fit of despair or rage. Landy’s art is quintessentially modern because it is so ruthlessly efficient, so mechanised. This work took him two years to organise. At first glance the scene inside C&A looks like a factory hard at work making things. Only up close do you see that a process of destruction is taking place which is as complex as the process of creation.  – Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2001.

When does consumption in our creative practice feel uncomfortable? What may we do to create in a more mindful way which is less resource hungry?

Keith Haring – Art For All

American artist Keith Haring (1958 – 1990) drawing on a subway platform in New York City, circa 1982. (Photo by Laura Levine/Corbis via Getty Images)

When he travelled around the world for exhibitions of his work, he always wanted to ‘leave something behind’ for the people. And so, often without permission from the authorities, Haring would seek out locations in impoverished neighbourhoods and inquire about the possibility of doing a mural. More often than not, the answer would be ‘yes’ and, with the help of locals he had met, he would paint one.

How is our work influenced by the location that it takes place or the way that it is shared? How may we populate different spaces in order to spread the reach and increase accessibility?

Letter to a Man – Robert Wilson / Mikhail Baryshnikov / Wilem Dafoe

Developed with, and starring, legendary dancer and performer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and co-starring Oscar-nominated actor and founding member of The Wooster Group Willem Dafoe, The Old Woman is an adaptation of the eponymous work by recently rediscovered Russian avant-garde author Daniil Kharms.

How can we tell stories that are pared down to the essential? How do we know when to stop adding and to focus an idea or piece of work? How do we accept that a process may be about casting off ideas as much as it is about coming up with them?

Swaantje Güntzel – Plastisphere / Vortex

“…Her work addresses the alienated relationship between humanity and nature. She exposes the inconsistencies of our actions and the hypocrisy of our value system, drawing attention to the unthinking exploitation of the environment in the industrialized global economy…”

As artists what part can we play in wider dialogue around waste and over consumption? Can our art ever be as powerful as other action or activism that we can engage in?