By Samuel Amago
Trash (see also waste, garbage, junk, debris, rubbish, discards). The ontology of trash falsely suggests completion or exhaustion. But we know that waste is not done doing things even after we are done with it. There is no outside of the system. And every system has a sink. The definition of trash varies, depending on who regards it. For the economist, trash is anything that the capitalist system has not yet figured out what to do with (note the adverb yet, which signals the charming techno-optimism that hides at the center of growth-oriented economic theory and other neoliberal fictions); for urban design waste is a reliable material flow destined for rational disposal in a regulated landfill, a provisional problem to be pushed into the future; for the sanitation worker, trash is the stuff that guarantees a livelihood and wage; in the homeplace, trash is the remains that must be expelled from the domestic sphere and disappeared thanks to the industry of the sanitation worker (the street-level agent of public health and urban design) and the imagination of municipal public works (the bird’s eye organizer of the system); for the industrial producers of one-way packaging, trash is an easily solved problem thanks to capitalism-friendly state structures (see economic externalization, corporate welfare society); for the artist, trash is a medium for transforming old things into new things and ideas (see El Anatsui, Zireja, Francisco de Pájaro, Maurizio Cattelan, Filomena Cruz, Piero Manzoni, Mark Dion, Marcel Duchamp, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Louise Bourgeois…); for the filmmaker it is an opportunity to think about the ethics of inclusion and representation (Agnès Varda); for the planet, trash is a recalcitrant scourge; for new materialist thought it is a political actant; for philosophy, sometimes trash is an embarrassment and sometimes it is a diacritic for thinking about value and temporality; for the archaeologist it is evidence; for the present, it is the past. We must also remember that we, too, have a definite duration and an expiration date. Trash is also us.