Green Living: Artist's salvaged exhibition forces Vancouverites to face "mindless" waste

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      If you’ve walked, driven, or cycled past the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite, an outdoor exhibition space at 1100 West Georgia Street, in the past few months, you may have been struck by the architectural scale of Salvage, a structure that boasts an exterior crafted from hundreds of pieces of discarded lumber.

      Look closely and you’ll spot a wheelbarrow, abandoned doorways, and even a 1960s Kenmore washing machine nestled between the planks of wood. But to really get the most of artist Asim Waqif’s interactive installation, you’ll have to step inside. There, visitors will find all sorts of tools, trinkets, and knickknacks, including empty beer crates, vintage table fans, street signs, lanterns, and lacrosse sticks, strewn atop desks, shelves, and dressers—all of them recovered from Metro Vancouver trash.

      “I went to the landfill and different transfer stations to try and dig up exactly what happens with the waste [in Vancouver],” Waqif tells the Straight by phone from his home in New Delhi. “And frankly, I was a bit disappointed.”

      An artist who has completed research in solid-waste management around the world, Waqif was surprised to see so many objects being sent to landfills in Vancouver, a city known for its supposed green-oriented lifestyle and initiatives. Much of the garbage he encountered at these sites was demolition and construction waste from residential tear-downs. “I was really distressed to see that most of these houses are getting demolished, excavated, bulldozed and then just getting shredded and burnt,” he says.

      Lucy Lau

      Collecting objects from landfills, transfer stations, and repurpose stores, Waqif decided to showcase the waste in an installation that would illustrate a small fraction of what Vancouverites toss. At the heart of Salvage is the wood: old-growth timber, window frames, roofing, and walls make up the immersive structure as well as many of the abandoned furnishings that are housed within.

      Clocks, cans, and dated trophies are presented in plain sight, while keen observers who slide open dresser drawers and cabinets will discover weathered ceramics and pristine children’s textbooks detailing the history of B.C. A consistent buzzing sound can be heard throughout: the result of microphones and sensors picking up on the vibrations of visitors’ movements

      An attempt to bridge the old, recovered objects with some form of technology, the low hum is also Waqif’s way of building a fully interactive piece that engages its audience through multiple senses. “I try to create systems that reward curiosity,” the artist explains.

      It’s easy to get lost in Salvage, with its multiple layers, rooms, and steps. However, Waqif hopes that the installation will encourage visitors to reassess their own consumption habits—especially given statistics that Vancouverites tossed an estimated 351,000 tonnes of trash in 2015 alone. “A person feels that they’re doing the right thing by putting a particular waste into a particular bin,” he says. “But then they feel entitled to go consume more and create more waste because they’re going to put it in the right-coloured bin again.

      “I hope, by going to and visiting the installation, people subconsciously start asking these questions of their own lives,” he adds.

      Asim Waqif’s Salvage runs at the Vancouver Gallery’s Offsite (1100 West Georgia Street) until April 15.

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.