Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Originally published on Art Review's site
Center For Land Use Interpretation, Los Angeles
31 May – ongoing
Review by Jesi Khadivi
Approximately 38,000 tons of waste is produced in Los Angeles County each day (actually down from the 50,000 tons per day in the 1980s). Because of the city's feverishly-scrutinized sprawl, car culture, and mass entertainment, it's a common target for a critique on detritus. The Center For Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), a somewhat mysterious or at least deliberately ambiguous organisation with a practice that encompasses art, environmentalism, urbanism and sociology, has been examining the uses (or misuses) of fringe and post-industrial landscapes in the US since its inception in 1994. Their current exhibition, Post Consumed, offers a stark, unadorned view of the journey of LA's waste, from curbside to landfill. The exhibition reads like an artifact found in the future; CLUI's approach to presenting this rich investigation is minimal, direct and devoid of any hint of sensationalism.
Most of the information here is presented through four documentary videos, dispassionately titled 'Collecting and Sorting the Trash of LA County', 'Diversions in the Waste Stream', 'Inside an MRF (Material Recovery Center)', and 'Landfills'. Everyday household objects are presented on a pedestal, with corresponding placards explaining how these items comprise the city's waste stream. There's also information on a floating proposal for the future of the city's garbage: a plan to compact trash at El Puente, the county's largest landfill, and load it onto trains for disposal at the Mesquite landfill east of the Salton Sea.
While the city of Los Angeles is referenced frequently throughout the exhibition texts, there is nothing particularly local about Post Consumed. The photographs of vast, anonymous lots and sorting facilities could have been taken anywhere in the US. CLUI's deadpan, detached assessment of waste production and management only underscores the universality of this issue, as well as the anonymity of its perpetrators.
Post Consumed is neither hopeless, nor hopeful. CLUI's retro, instructional approach avoids the chest-beating histrionics that could so easily accompany such an exhibition, and for the most part resists aestheticisation. But there are a few moments in the videos where the material veers towards the artful: the hypnotic repetitive back and forth motion of trash compactors, the surprisingly graceful ease with which garbage workers sort through waste for recyclables. Throughout the exhibition a clipped, staccato pulse of information prevails, leaving the viewer guessing what CLUI's stance on waste management really is. By casting an unflinching eye on the mechanism of waste production, Post Consumed asks the viewer to think about how we structure the by-products of our effluence, whether the system works, and if and how we want to change it.