One person’s trash is everyone’s treasure

By KatherineGamby

Until five years ago, trash has always been something that was disposable and not reusable. In light of a new green culture that is becoming popular, a new art exhibition that utilizes trash as a way to express beauty and transformation has swept the world and now is at Columbia.

The Walsh Gallery, 118 N. Peoria St., is hosting Vivan Sundaram’s art exhibition entitled “Trash,” which opened Sept. 11. It is a series of large-scale photographs taken of a cityscape created completely out of garbage in his studio and residence of New Delhi.

“I animate this landscape by these various manipulations to create bizarre senses of perspective, congestion and visual violence,” Sundaram said.

The exhibition will examine his fascination with recycled objects and the beauty of urban waste and second-hand goods.

“It’s in a sense about the certain aspect of the fragility of life for millions of people,” Sundaram said.

He doesn’t anticipate starting a new renaissance of green artwork, but he is leaving it up to people and artists alike to draw their own conclusions.

“It’s … a visual statement which can be interpreted in various ways,” Sundaram said.

The main purpose of the exhibition, he said, is to help people understand the turmoil in their lives by facing it directly and seeing some type of beauty in it.

“I’m making a point about how you relate to chaos and you internalize that entropy, that violence,” Sundaram said. “Other than looking away from it, you look at it head-on and maybe you learn to cope with it and, of course, enjoy it.”

Columbia is in the process of forming a program that will encourage students to create green art like Sundaram and live a green lifestyle. It is scheduled to launch nest fall and will encourage students to think about sustainability and practice it in their everyday lives. It will be a “What can you do?” approach and there will be incentives for students to help ease them into the lifestyle. One of the incentives will be competitions where the pieces will be made out of recycled objects.

“We want to encourage [competitions] like that,” said Joe Leamanczyk, project manager for the Office of Campus Environment at Columbia. “I know even in the Art and Design Department they’ve taken their own initiative. They actually have students making models out of recycled cardboard and things like that.”

Leamanczyk said he thinks every little bit counts to help the environment, but students need to start acting now in order to make an impact.

“I never think it’s too late,” Leamanczyk said. “The earth is a very powerful thing and there’s a certain amount of healing it can do. Anything that we can do now, I think, can impact and slow it down, if not reverse some of the damages that have already occurred.”

Leamanczyk thinks that as artists, Columbia students have the power to turn this new culture into a big movement and hopefully a lifestyle.

“Art has been a method of pushing forward agendas and new movements for centuries, and I think we can really harness that power to be a leader in this movement,” Leamanczyk said.

The Recycling Center on campus is also doing its part by offering recycled products as art supplies to students.

“A lot more departments are becoming aware of reusing material … we’re supplying them with loads of cardboard starting this summer for their students to utilize for projects and what not,” said John Wawrzaszek, recycling manager for Columbia.

He thinks recycled products are not only a good way to create new types of artwork, but also a way for Columbia to save money.

“Something that would be awesome is to support student artwork through non-traditional means so that the school is saving money and not wasting it on materials that we’re throwing out,” Wawrzaszek said.

Sundaram said he was not trying to push a new movement of art, but Columbia is well on its way to bring a part of it.

For more information on Vivan Sundaram’s exhibit at the Walsh Gallery, visit