The Discarded Museum

DEHSART artist and founder Larissa Nickel was published in the ARID Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology with an article on the networks of discards in relation to museums as sites of object preservation and inspiration. Below is an excerpt from that article.

Larissa Nickel, The Crate, Digital Photograph, 2013

Larissa Nickel, The Crate, Digital Photograph, 2013

To consider a dump site as a form of museum is to critique and exalt both the museum and the dump, presenting objects of valued material culture and objects of discarded waste culture on the same level playing field—interchangeable, mutable, relative—a chess match of cultural occupation. The museum has long been seen as a social forum, a site dedicated to the Muses, a civic space intended to facilitate dialogue where narratives are fluid and intersect in collaboration with individuals, objects and their ideas. Inside museum galleries, objects receive their narrative voice, their place in the archive, and their historical position. Outside in the dump, objects await another tale, an environmental story of the effects of the earth and sun, while the presence of an occasional wanderer, seeker or dumper continuously rewrites the object’s story and its archive.

The use of artistic and cultural interpretation in this heterotopic dumping space is defined by discarded relations, intersections, emplacements and networks in which objects and apparitions are continually juxtaposed, or released of their predetermined functions to allow us to reconsider or re-present our discards as an archaeology, a genealogy, or an early form of museum—the cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer. This aesthetic message of museum as medium can convey complexities or multiplicities in meaning. It can also provide experimental research methods to contribute to the understanding and reinvention of the planet and the possible ways we inhabit it or relate to it.

To apply this narrative to a site of illegal dumping reflects and repurposes collective action towards cultural reuse and public agency, fluidly moving from object to social meaning and yet around again. Re-presenting dump sites with the museum techniques of collecting, documenting, preserving and interpreting can galvanize creative potential and use illegal dump sites as a social forum to act as provocateur, catalyst, creative producer and facilitator, thereby progressing towards a new genealogical method of ecological responsibility and cultural agency that never ends. As the Museum of Jurassic Technology quotes Charles Willson Peale, “The learner must be led always from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar, guided along, as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life”[3]—a place where familiar objects become unfamiliar again.