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Wasted: rubbish and art

A few weeks ago I conducted my first artcrawl, which was centred on the use of the 'found' object in contemporary practice. It was in response to a number of exhibitions on in Cape Town where artists were working with these 'kinds' of materials. My crawl began with a discussion of Marcel Duchamp - sometimes it seems you can't tell an art story without starting with him. He is credited with beginning this practice, though instead of referring to the objects he repurposed as art as 'found' or disused they are dubbed readymades. No doubt he wasn't the first to make art from readymades - Picasso and other modernists employed disused objects in what was termed 'junk-art' - they probably nicked this idea from Africans, but I have not traced this link yet.

Duchamp only produced around 14 artworks in his lifetime, mostly due to the fact that he struggled to find readymade objects which held no emotional pull for him - he limited his selection to objects he was dispassionate about. African artists like Kendell Geers, whose work I touched on next - in particular his 1995 Self Portrait - gravitate towards 'readymades' that crudely encapsulate routes of migration as a view to engaging with a conflicted identity. A broken Heineken bottle served for Geers as a shorthand for his 'fractured, fragmented and shattered' Dutch roots, which somehow prevent him from claiming his African identity or even a Dutch one. I introduced the work of Kay Hassan into my narrative, for he too has been fixated with the use of disused objects, from filming people scavenging at rubbish dumping sites in Joburg to the wonderful installation of second hand clothing at his Urbanation exhibition at JAG in 2008. He arranges clothing in tonal compositions in such a way that he appears to be 'painting' with clothing. In a way he allows the meaning and identities attached to the clothing to be 'emptied out' - he cleanses them in a way in preparation for their new life to serve new people with different identities. The use of readymades in abstract compositions that carry loaded topics linked to identity, gender and race has been continued by the likes of Turiya Magadelela who stretches flesh-coloured stockings over frames.

In my next crawl, titled Fabrication, I will be literally probing the use of 'materials'.

There is a long-held perception that African artists make art from waste products because they don’t have access to, or the means, or education to use more traditional ones. For some reason Westerners enjoy holding onto th