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Junk: Art and the Politics of Trash

Junk: Art and the Politics of Trash
Gillian Whiteley

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Trash, garbage, rubbish, dross, and detritus - in this enjoyably radical exploration of 'Junk', Gillian Whiteley rethinks art's historical and present appropriation of junk within our eco-conscious and globalised culture. She does this through an illustrated exploration of particular materials, key moments and locations and the telling of a panoply of trash narratives. Found and ephemeral materials are primarily associated with assemblage - object-based practices which emerged in the mid-1950s and culminated in the seminal exhibition 'The Art of Assemblage' in New York in 1961. With its deployment of the discarded and the filthy, Whiteley argues, assemblage has been viewed as a disruptive, transgressive artform that engaged with narratives of social and political dissent, often in the face of modernist condemnation as worthless kitsch. In the Sixties, parallel techniques flourished in Western Europe, the US and Australia but the idiom of assemblage and the re-use of found materials and objects - with artist as bricoleur - is just as prevalent now. This is a timely book that uncovers the etymology of waste and the cultures of disposability within these economies of wealth.

Table of Contents

Preface: The ragman’s grandaughter
Introduction: Culturalist bricolage and garbology
Chapter One: Rehabilitating rubbish: histories, values, aesthetics
Chapter Two: The cultural life of detritus: from objet trouvé to the art of assemblage
Chapter Three: Dissenters, drifters and poets: ‘placing’ assemblage in the San Francisco Bay Area
Chapter Four: The ‘comedy of waste’: a load of British rubbish
Chapter Five: Accumulations, panoplies and le quotidien: French practice and the transfiguration of everyday mess
Chapter Six: Cross-cultural encounters and collisions: the Annandale Imitation Realists and Australian modernism
Afterword: Digital ordure, leftovers and leavings

Author Info

Gillian Whiteley is a curator and is lecturer in visual and material culture at Loughborough University. Her publications include 'Telling Stories: Theories & Criticism, Cinematic Essay, Objects & Narrative' (2009). She is a regular contributor to 'The Art Book', for which during 2009 she has been Honorary Editor.


A finite stockpile of Earth resources comprises humanity's shared inheritance with all other forms of life. What we are and all we own are fabricated out of this common pool. Even the molecules that comprise our bodies are merely on loan from the ecosystem. These molecules endure, but increasingly they endure stripped of their utility for humans and for the planet. Unwanted stuff is proliferating along with the nouns that describe them: discard, scrap, debris, rubbish, garbage, scrap, junk, litter, refuse, cast-off. Gillian Whiteley has written a thorough and compelling narrative of the role of trash as a source of artistic inspiration. Her discerning commentary has the power to transform readers into connoisseurs of waste.
– Linda Weintraub, author and publisher of Avant-Guardians: Textlets in Art and Ecology

Gillian Whiteley's well-researched contemporary art history is an important and scholarly book on the new aesthetics of eco-art. Trash, junk and what we discard are the real markers of our civilization. Whiteley sheds light on the artists who are tackling the growing landscape the mountains and monuments of trash of our temporary culture.
– Holly Crawford, Ph.D., Director AC Institute, NYC

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.

ISBN: 9781848854130
Publication Date: 30 Nov 2010
Number of Pages: 192
Illustrations: 30 integrated bw illustrations

ISBN: 9781848854123
Publication Date: 30 Nov 2010
Number of Pages: 192
Illustrations: 30 integrated bw illustrations

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