03.–18. Juni 2017


Design, Kunst und
Theorie Festival

Recyclinghof St. Pauli

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June 2017: the recycling yard in Hamburg, St. Pauli, turns into a stage for 42 hours in the course of 6 days. Waste will be presented and debated in the form of objects, videos, lectures, workshops, artistic interventions, performances, and real junk in containers.

The project was conceived by Nana Petzet (artist), Harald Lemke (philosopher), Anke Haarmann (artist, design theorist) in cooperation with Stadtreinigung Hamburg (municipal waste management). It is a cultural initiative and exhibition platform on the topic of waste involving local players and international guests.

There’s the subway station Feldstraße, the Heiligengeistfeld, the FC St. Pauli stadium, the Rindermarkthalle, the flak tower, a gas station and, right in the midst of it, a recycling yard of Stadtreinigung Hamburg (municipal waste management). Could there be a better place in Hamburg to approach the topic of our current waste culture? From the stage or platform of the recycling yard, the waste issue becomes distinctly perceptible to the senses. Each time something is tossed into one of the containers, private waste turns into a municipal valuable material.

So right here is where the questions arise that we wish to consider: how are the current practices of municipal and commercial waste management to be assessed and where are developments in this field headed? Are life cycles conceivable which lead neither to the destruction of resources nor to processes of downcycling? 


Tracing Waste

The way people deal with waste tells you much about the status of a civilisation, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan once said. So far, our way of dealing with waste has primarily been based on a strategy of depreciation: with the sentence, “that’s rubbish” something is declared as useless, without value, and is banned from our perception and appreciation. Increasing masses of waste together with declining resources call for new practices in dealing with waste, including an aesthetic revaluation of the invaluable. Emerging beyond the established debate on waste management and life cycle, alternatives such as waste prevention blogs or upcycling trends with a focus on methods of recycling, reuse or revaluation and prevention of waste are gaining in relevance. THE WASTE PROJECT intends to reflect upon this ongoing cultural change with the aid of artistic, philosophical and design approaches. From a critical-creative perspective, it attempts to transform trash into treasures and what is worthless into something precious.

Aesthetics and Waste

A transformation of waste production will not, however, be achieved merely by means of an enhanced perceptibility through art. It rather requires cultural practices which not only function as aesthetic interventions, but also serve as an encouragement on the practical level. Instead of merely staging waste in an aesthetic manner and creating auratic trash objects, what is needed is “contamination of pure aesthetics” – a disruption of the notion that anything can turn into something beautiful – an intensive examination of issues related to waste on the basis of art, design and philosophy. We wonder: What do we actually perceive as “rubbish”? Can strategies of waste prevention be revalued to develop into future-oriented cultural practices? And how does society handle its waste? Can waste problems be solved on the basis of innovative design? Which philosophical principles would guide such a transformative design?

Overall Context

We suggest the use of “waste” as a kind of renewable resource – continually being produced and replenished all around us and available in huge quantities – and thus to turn a global problem into an “anthropoethical project”. We may assume that the problem of waste is a societal expression or, more precisely, the accumulated societal waste of a collective indifference. In the short era of capitalist industrialisation and the ensuing process of globalisation, the increasing masses of waste – produced in nearly all spheres of life by our modern “disposable society” – were treated as negligible side-effects of progress, all embedded in a consciousness of the benefits of “general wealth”. In this sense, the spirit of our times necessitates a thorough recycling of the definition of human history as a “progress in the consciousness of freedom” (Hegel). Indeed, the ruse of an impure unreason of waste production brings forth the critical insight that the feast may eventually come to its end. Everyday people realise it a bit more clearly: our waste is getting beyond our control and is threatening to make the planet uninhabitable.


The project has its focus on exploring ways to escape the destiny of a total waste pollution. With a series of theoretical lectures, artistic and design-based research and practical showcases, we use waste as a resource for ethical self-reflection and intend to transform it into a sustainable matter for social rethinking. The exhibition, or more precisely, the aesthetic demonstration of imaginable forms of waste management, stages on the premises of a centrally located recycling yard of the municipal waste management. Departing from this special location, we explore various future options and social perspectives of waste minimisation. The topic is being discussed at a place where waste is literally present. Artists and designers work with or against the “trash” and present their visions. Waste experts share their knowledge in dealing with discarded material. Who knows, perhaps our wasting society (Wegwerfgesellschaft) will end up where it actually belongs: on „history's midden heap“ (Karl Marx)—just to transform into a better civilization that does not know anything about waste.

The waste project

The project is curated by Nana Petzet (artist), Harald Lemke (philosopher), Anke Haarmann (artist, design theorist) in cooperation with Stadtreinigung Hamburg (municipal waste management). It is a cultural initiative and exhibition platform on the topic of waste involving local players and international guests.

Presenting and Debating – The Exhibition Platform in June 2017

For three weekends in June 2017, the recycling yard in Hamburg, St. Pauli turns into a stage for 42 hours on six days, and THE WASTE PROJECT becomes a public exhibition platform. The exhibition is on display during those weekends, and the recycling yard serves both as a stage and showcase. The waste containers of the recycling yard are not closed, but rather fitted with viewing panels allowing insight into the different collecting containers, so that the amount of valuable material is rendered visible. Additional containers are installed for the presentation of the exhibition itself.

The exhibition part of the project feature works from various designers and artists, and include works from the project leaders themselves. Based on the key subjects, guest speakers give lectures related to the theory and practice of “waste management.” The lectures are held in front of a setting of waste. In this context, there are also film screenings. The screenings take place on the grass area behind the containers, as will the Waste Cooking on Saturdays.

Waste is everywhere...

With the introduction of the Green Dot and new packaging regulations in 1992, the state had installed a control mechanism aimed at regulating the enormous volume of packaging waste. This policy was coupled with the hope that methods of waste prevention and substantially reduced packaging as well as a functioning recycling industry would be promoted at equal measure. However, according to the Federal Environment Agency, in 2014 the figures of packaging waste incurred in Germany increased to the record amount of 17.8 million tons. Concerning the recycling of plastics, despite technical innovation, nothing has changed in the past 20 years with regard to the principle problem of downcycling.
The world’s population produces 3.5 million tons of waste every day. If this does not change, the dramatic littering of the planet will double within the next ten years only. Almost 40 percent of the 14 million tons of packaging waste produced annually in Germany consist of plastic. Around 1.8 million tons of these plastics come from short-lived or single-use plastic packaging, such as foils, all kinds of bags or disposable dishes and cutlery. Due to the expansion of delivery services, fast food and coffee to go outlets, along with the matching consumer behaviour, the total quantity of packaging waste has increased from 15.5 to 17.1 million tons per year, or 200 k per person or 1.7 k per day – and counting. According to estimates by the EU, every year 100 million tons of food are thrown away. Also in 2014, each German produced on average 21.6 k of electronic waste, from articles such as stoves, ovens, refrigerators, dish washers, washing machines and dryers or TV sets and computer screens.
In the arts the topic of waste is not new. Already Duchamp’s urinal was discussed as the first pre-consumer upcycling object. Readymades represent nothing other than waste utilsation. For his tiny collage “Lumpenwurf”, Schwitters already had used found objects; in the 1960s Arman layered street cleaning waste in glass cylinders; in 1981 Kabakov began his story of “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away”; and Song Dong exhibited the entire collection of his mother’s household waste. In recent times Webster & Nobel have arranged junk piles to reveal figures in their shadows. Schult’s “Trashpeople” populated the Matterhorn, posed in front of the pyramids of Cairo or appeared on the Chinese Wall. In 2003 and 2004 the art magazine Kunstforum International had even dedicated two issues to the topic “Trash Art” and “Theory of Waste”. In the sense of an expanded concept of trash art, the past two years have brought forth “Earthships”: houses built of natural and recycled materials. “Sometimes someone is standing by a trashcan holding an item and wondering, undecided: throw it away or keep it? And these seconds of hesitation, this moment of uncertainty is what interests me”, Ilya Kabakov said in an interview with Boris Groys in 1991.