Turning trash into art: The life-changing magic of “Consumed”

Mary Mattingly; Life of Objects, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Robert Mann Gallery
Mary Mattingly; Life of Objects, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Robert Mann Gallery

Long before the current bestselling book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the artist China Adams decided to reassess her possessions. In 1995, she rid herself of any material item she considered to be unnecessary– 77.13 percent of what she owned ranked as “official burden status” under a three-point system she developed. Then, she reduced those things down to their essence, stitched them into pieces of tarp using dental floss, and whitewashed them all. She titled the resulting works “The Official Stitch and Hide Procedure” (and sold them as art.)

China Adams, The Official Stitch and Hide Procedure, Box #20, Photo: Ace Gallery
China Adams, The Official Stitch and Hide Procedure, Box #20, Photo: Ace Gallery

Adams’ work is among other inventive looks at our consumer culture up now in a gallery at the University Museum on campus at Cal State Long Beach, titled Consumed. The show asks us to look at “the past, present and future implications of mass consumption.” The pieces on display pack a provocative punch, asking the viewer to consider the ecological and even moral impact of our relationship to consumer items.

Another compelling piece, by artist Gabriel Kuri, is a gigantic tapestry depicting a grocery store receipt, which turns a scrap of paper that’s typically disposable into a “highly stylized object of value.” Another series, by Jedidiah Caesar, compresses trash collected from the roads in Blythe, CA and coats them in resin, proof that beauty can spring from waste (and that plastic does, like it or not, reign supreme.)

This show, curated by students Brittany Binder, Sinead Finnerty-Pyne, and Amy Kaeser, is on display through April 12th on the lovely Edward Killingsworth-designed campus.

Consumed, University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach

Gabriel Kuri, untitled (superama,) Photo Phillip Scholz Ritterman
Gabriel Kuri, untitled (superama,) Photo Phillip Scholz Ritterman
Jedidiah Caesar. I/II/III/IIII/IIIII 1, Photo: Robert Wedemeyer
Jedidiah Caesar. I/II/III/IIII/IIIII 1, Photo: Robert Wedemeyer