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Last weekend at the dump in South Park, artist Britta Johnson asked people if she could borrow pieces of their trash—just for a minute. She'd return them.

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The people who were not flummoxed by the fact that she wanted to take a piece of their trash were flummoxed by the fact that she intended to give it back to them, only so they could throw it away. She and the volunteers working with her clarified by explaining that she wanted the pieces of trash—each one small enough to fit on a little black-draped stage set inside her van parked at the entrance to the dump—in order to animate them into a film. This did not always clarify, but that was part of the point.

The artist at work at her van at the dumps entrance. She wore a uniform like any other dump workers.
  • The artist at work at her van at the dump's entrance. She wore a uniform like any other dump worker's.
The people providing the trash were mostly big guys in big trucks. They humored her and her volunteers, for the most part. A few people flat-out refused to let their garbage become art. But most of them joked and went along. Johnson received trash and stop-motion animated it as fast she could, trying to get the piece of trash to perform its own little story before it would become nothing more than a lost thing in an unthinkably huge pile of what's unwanted. Among the items loaned: An old green net for a fish tank, torn; a mattress tag; knobs from a computer chair, a plastic tub with a dead spider dangling from its side; an empty pack of Marlboros; an empty tomato sauce jar; a rust-colored scrap of carpet.

"What some people do to keep from working," one man harrumphed when he was given his trash back.

Another man watched intently as Johnson bent and moved his piece of scrap cardboard while snapping dozens of pictures of it, to create the appearance that it was a house, or a bird, or one turning into the other.

The project was anti-pragmatic poetry performed at a site of absolute pragmatism (and maximum spectacle—have you gazed into the fiery mouth of the South Park dump lately?). It was called Last Gasp (funded by Artist Trust), and the poster advertising it showed a sequence of photos of a little plastic horse moving across a hand before disappearing. The weather that day was cold and gray, and while the artist was all business, she was also tenderly catching the sadness in disposability. She held each little thing right before it was thrown into the pit. The act of that brief grasp was the art as much as the act of giving these things a cameo.

Johnson promised each person who loaned her a piece of trash that they'd see their trash again in a final animation. A week later the video is finished. Here it is (from this site for the project):

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