by Sukanya DebFeb 01, 2023
It is inarguable that the omnipresence of garbage has progressively become a defining characteristic of contemporary experience and as such it is only natural for discourse around the subject to be on the rise. Proportionally reflecting its relevance is a tendency reverberating within the practices of many socially-conscious artists to re-appropriate garbage as an artistic medium. Alongside talks on segregation and more efficient methods of waste disposal, the 21st century has seen a growing number of formal experiments, which attempt to decontextualise or reclaim the materiality of this unassuming medium as a means to disseminate a renewed awareness about the phenomenon.
It is with such a tone that Manush John and Natasha Sharma created The Dark Fantasy, which was installed at the Bangalore International Centre in February 2020, for Hub’ba, a celebration to mark one year of the institution’s shift to its new premises. Standing at around eight feet tall and abstractly anthropomorphic, John and Sharma’s sculpture consists of several items that have been salvaged from garbage dumps and contained within blocks of hardened resin. The contents of the resin blocks – the material remains of toys, detergents, food, electronic goods and other consumable products, each in a different stage of having been used – have an understandably decadent quality but within its current form seems alien in how sanitised it feels.
The installation may be understood to converge between the disciplines of consumer consciousness and waste management, and its intent may be understood from an earlier experiment conducted by Sharma at Bengaluru’s popular Cubbon Park. The artist had previously installed transparent waste-bins in the public park alongside the pre-existing opaque ones generating confusion and discomfort amongst the people using the bins on account of them, and others, being able to see the garbage they were disposing of. These reactions caught Sharma’s attention and this led up to the next phase, which was to create a more permanent display of a sample of the city’s waste, as was suggested by John.
Though founded on a similar premise as Sharma’s earlier experiment, with The Dark Fantasy reactions tended to be more positive with a lot of audience members spending a good amount of time with the installation. According to the artists, children were its primary participants, finding joy in pointing out and identifying the various items which were preserved in resin. “Not that we know what exactly it is doing for the child, or for the people looking at it. It’s just that we are spending time with it and that immediately creates possibilities,” says John.
For the duo, the problem of garbage extends well beyond its abject nature, and becomes also about the position and meaning of disposable products within an increasingly consumerist society. According to Sharma, “We say that we are throwing garbage, but we are actually consuming it. We think we are just consuming a product, but we are actually consuming it as a whole: the identity, the branding and all the labour that went into making it happen. And I feel that garbage becomes a residue of that”. The act of putting once-disposed items on display effectively reifies them as the audience begins to consume them with a newfound consciousness, thinking of them not as containers for something else but as objects worthy of attention in and of themselves.
According to John, one need not visit the sculpture to really think about the intrinsic nature of our collective garbage but can start at home by noticing the kind of garbage that is produced. However, this may not be something that comes naturally to most and therein lies the value of such a presentation. With a form that is reminiscent of the physical appearance of formalin as it is used to store organisms in biology labs all over the world, the installation invites the viewer to notice articles of garbage not only as inanimate specimens but also as organisms whose journeys have been halted for the viewer’s benefit, and in this light it can be interesting what more our waste can teach us.
The Dark Fantasy was created with the support of United Way, Go Native, Hasiru Dala and BohriAli.