Lamentations for a landfill

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      You might suppose that an exhibition focused on reclaimed junk–used, busted, and rusted things abandoned in illegal dump sites, on curbsides, and in back-yard garbage pits, then reconfigured into works of art–is about overconsumption. That it's a comment on the waste inherent in our way-too-many-commodities cycle. As curator Jesse Birch tells it, however, the theme is more poetic than that. In the early stages of installing the three-person show Working Back, which opens at the Belkin Satellite on Saturday (September 1) and runs to September 30, he says, "It's a kind of lamentation for dead objects."

      Birch, a master's candidate in UBC's critical and curatorial studies program, has organized his thesis exhibition around the works and projects of emerging artists Gareth Moore and Kara Uzelman of Vancouver and Kerri Reid of Toronto. Uzelman and Reid are in the gallery today, unpacking their art and talking to preparators. Moore, who will present photographs of the ephemeral sculptures he creates out of urban waste, is busy off-site. "All of the artists are really interested in shifting the values of things," Birch says. "Working with objects that have been discarded or degraded."

      In Reid's case, that means picking up damaged and abandoned articles she encounters while walking through her neighbourhood, and either repairing them, making multiples of them, or both. She has rescued and duplicated everything from a broken porcelain teapot to unravelling wicker baskets and crushed cardboard boxes. Her art examines metaphors of human worth attached to the material world. "We don't value people when they don't produce and consume enough," she says. "If we're going to treat people like objects, then maybe we should treat objects with an absurd amount of care."

      Reid has re-woven the seating of a pair of discarded wicker chairs (which she is exhibiting here) and made a slipcover for another dilapidated chair (which she returned to the alley where she found it). She also has made casts of broken found objects in order to create multiple copies of them, including a smashed bowl she then offered for sale on eBay. (Some hits, no sale.) "I started replicating them in their broken state, to suggest that they could be valued things," she says.

      Uzelman's work here includes sculptures and a pseudo-museum display created out of "artifacts" she unearthed during an archaeological dig–a dig she undertook last year in the back yard of her Strathcona home. After six months of mentoring by an archaeologist, she excavated a deep pit in the junk-filled yard, and discovered a century of refuse. Among the finds on view here are glass and pottery shards, beer bottles, chicken bones, wooden spoons, shoe polish, broken hockey sticks, and a Delight Peanut Oil tin.

      "I came across this term, condere, which is a Latin verb that means both 'to found a city' and 'to pickle something'," Uzelman says. "For me, the word highlighted the relationship between architecture and surplus goods." An earlier project involved constructing an ephemeral, closet-shaped sculpture of garage-sale finds. One of the works she's showing here is a "Lucy" skeleton–a pseudo-fossil of a primate, made out of sticks and stones and broken bones.

      "To greater or lesser degrees," Birch observes with a smile, "histories reside in this exhibition."