Banner art:  CAMEL from Unsustainable Creatures by Cynthia Minet

By now many know that Americans produce an unfair share of the world’s trash pollution.  At about five percent of total global population, we produce over 30% of its trash, most of it plastic.  What is different about the AMERICAN TRASH exhibition is the notion that we have the power to do something about it. 

AMERICAN TRASH unabashedly challenges in favor activism.  Chris Jordan, known for his Numbers and Albatross series of paintings confronting the consequences of human overconsumption, has written an introduction specifically for the exhibition.  Dianna Cohen, whose plastic bag collages Maya and Box are included in the exhibition, is the founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition, one of the organizations responsible for the successful California statewide ban on plastic bags (first in the nation). 

The 25 artists in the exhibition, curated by environmental artivist and GCI Artistic Director Marina DeBris, are primarily focusing attention on the problem of single-use plastic.  In addition to Dianna Cohen, Pam Longobardi, whose intricate Wave painting and video “Cave Excavation” appears in the exhibition, is widely respected for her global beach clean-up projects -- from Beijing to Costa Rica.  Joel Harper, with illustrations from his children’s book All The Way To The Ocean, is known for his efforts to educate children on the environment, especially ocean pollution.  

In the words of curator DeBris, whose work in the exhibition includes unwashed trash found on local beaches with which she creates Trashion: “As visual artists we are in the unique position to reach an audience that may not be aware of the issue of plastic pollution. Despite being told numerous times that I ‘need to take my pieces through a car wash’, I don’t want to show the problem in a glorified light.”

The purpose of the AMERICAN TRASH art exhibition is first to raise awareness, and then to inspire action.  The introduction, provided by artist Chris Jordan, explains:  “When I first published my Midway photographs of dead albatrosses filled with plastic, a common internet comment was “If those birds are so stupid that they can’t tell the difference between food and garbage, they deserve to die!”  The irony is that we humans unknowingly suffer from this same malady these days: an increasing inability to discern what is nourishing from what is toxic - to our bodies, our culture, our minds, and our spirits.”  

There is a great deal of humor and whimsy in the art collected for the exhibition.  The three pieces by Gregg Segal from his “Seven Days of Garbage” – one of three Goth girls, a second of a cigarette smoking hipster millennial, and a third of a granola-ish young family – are indicative.  Even when the garbage is Quinoa Flakes and organic milk, it is still trash pollution, and a sizeable portion of it is single-use plastic.

Still, GCI believes that “with the proper enlightenment change can happen – Swedes recycle 99 percent of all their household waste, upcycling it into energy.  And when they run out of garbage to reuse, they go as far as to import it from other countries.” (Lenore French, GCI founder)