The artists join forces for a jarring show that raises awareness on the impact of our overconsumption, and what we can do to help minimise it
Dazed photographer Harley Weir and poet, author, and artist Wilson Oryema will join forces in their fight to highlight our overconsumption and its effects on the planet by launching a jarring, collaborative show titled rubbish_1 at Antonia Marsh’s London-based gallery Soft Opening.
While best known for her fashion campaigns, editorials, and most recently, a photo book, over the past five years, Weir has begun to look beyond the luxury and at the piles of trash surrounding her. An Instagram account named @rubbish_1 was her outlet to share what she found, before it was hacked and deleted. Returning with @rubbish_1.2 – which hosts the byline “WHERE IS YOUR TRASH?” – the photographer started posting her favourite images on its feed. Without context, the photos themselves could pass as surreal, strangely beautiful still lifes, but are in fact the full-blown, ugly reality of our overconsumption. “For Weir, photography represents her means to curiously learn about her surroundings and understand the world”, explains the show’s press release, “so this ongoing series enables the artist to acknowledge her own footprint, alongside a clear agenda to generate a more widespread awareness about plastic waste.”
Oryema gives Weir’s images a voice through the medium of his poetry. While he has long been publicly raising awareness about the dangers of overconsumption and the importance of single-use plastic through his artworks and own imagery, at the end of 2017, he released his debut poetry book, Wait – “A book of short stories and poems on contemporary consumption”. For rubbish_1, he continues this conversation, creating a new body of work which will be displayed on the gallery’s shop front, but also in a chapbook made exclusively for the show.
As the show prepares to launch, Marsh sits down with both artists to discuss how we can help.
Antonia Marsh: What was your impetus behind this body of work, what do you hope to achieve with it?
Harley Weir: It’s really simple – it’s just about having a less wasteful lifestyle and also about people taking responsibility for their actions. I like that in the images you can see those really normal brands that you just throw away, that you don't think twice about.
My concerns with waste started when I started doing the first @rubbish_1 Instagram in 2015. I had moved to Peckham and there was literally rubbish everywhere – trash everywhere. And then I started noticing it, and noticing how much of it that I was putting in the bin, thinking what difference does it make if it’s in the bin or it’s on the floor? It’s all still going to the same place. It’s all going into the land.
After that, I tried to cut down on my plastic intake which kept going down and now I’m going to the lengths of trying to find special shops where I can refill.
“In the images you can see those really normal brands that you just throw away, that you don't think twice about” – Harley Weir
Antonia Marsh: Generating content out of it is interesting. It’s weird that waste becomes productive. When you take these images do you feel like you're capturing something that’s happened, or are you suggesting a future? Is there a purpose for them to show something that’s occurred?
Harley Weir: I’ve been taking the rubbish pictures for a really long time. Before that Instagram, which I had for three years, got hacked and deleted, it was much grosser and gruesome. Now that I’ve relaunched it as @rubbish_1.2, it’s my top picks, but before it was just anything. It was hideous. I even took a picture of a bag of shit and put that up there. It’s really just as simple as me acknowledging my footprint and trying to help other people to acknowledge theirs.
Antonia Marsh: It’s quite obsessive, the number of images you've collected.
Harley Weir: It’s really obsessive. Photography is my way of learning about the world and expressing my feelings about it, so that’s why they are images. My work is mostly about understanding the world and being curious about it, and photography is my means to learn. How we make sense of our surroundings, how I learn. It gives me an excuse to go to places. I’ve been to a few dumps, and so photography is definitely a really amazing tool to learn more about the topic. It gives you a really good, solid way to understand things.
Antonia Marsh: If it’s really difficult to make zero waste, how hard is it to have some effect?
Wilson Oryema: People forget that just doing very little helps. Even to change just one thing in your life – whether that’s simply not taking plastic bags at the supermarket anymore. If you do that for your lifespan, that’s thousands of bags. Not using tampons and single-use sanitary pads, in your lifetime will save over 10,000. Just doing that one thing for a long time is going to save so much. And the more you don’t do it, and other people see you don't do it, it passes the message on. Everyone doing a little bit is going to make a difference, and this can be such a huge change.
Antonia Marsh: How did your interest in single-use plastic waste come about?
Wilson Oryema: I’ve always had an interest in looking inwards and why I behave in certain ways, so why do I do this? But I never really felt like I had a voice to communicate those concerns with. But I was interning for Harley two years ago archiving and I wanted to understand what her approach was, so I started taking photos, and then I started to build a show about the relationship between trash disposal men and us as consumers. I was interested in our behaviours and why those pervade and seep in everywhere. Why they manifest in various ways, whether it’s with partners, or how we consume narratives or information. I put this overarching theme of consumption towards it. So it just came about as a result of naturally caring about why we are so wasteful and where we’re gonna go if we continue.
“Even to change just one thing in your life – whether that’s simply not taking plastic bags at the supermarket anymore. If you do that for your lifespan, that’s thousands of bags” – Wilson Oryema
Antonia Marsh: What do you imagine your audience or your reader taking from your poems?
Wilson Oryema: I want my readers to look at the book or a poem and think, ‘this sounds like me’. Of course, I don't want everyone to feel that way because then it means that this is more widespread than I feared. So I just want them to have, and be able to invite, more conversations about it.
You can just start conversations by turning to any page (in the book). For example, the poem “Consuming Relationships” asks, “Do you savour every aspect or eat hurriedly to start sooner on the next one?” As well as “Sugar Crush”: “She likened herself to a kid in a candy store, but a sweet tooth is rarely a good thing.”
I want people to acknowledge that these behaviours are connected to everything that we do. For example, if you say there’s a problem with a system, you could say that the whole schooling system has its difficulties or issues. Then all of a sudden, there’s a bad teacher that comes out of that system and you fire the teacher, but you're not actually solving the whole problem – you’re just cutting out one isolated incident. So, as opposed to it just being that we need to cut out plastic, it’s more that this behaviour pervades everything, and we need to look at the whole system and the way that we actually think and act, and approach it through that. The problem is with the human condition, rather than just one material. That’s what I wanna attack or address in my writing.
Antonia Marsh: Harley sees herself as making sense of the world and her concerns around her, and her interests, through her images, do you feel you're doing the same with your poems? Is it what you use to investigate the world?
Wilson Oryema: I use writing in a similar way, and to bring more attention to some of the underlying thought patterns which dominate us. Pretty much the same as what Harley does.
Antonia Marsh: What do you think it means for your work and hers to be in the space together?
Wilson Oryema: It’s a beautiful marriage of disciplines and it means that we can multiply the attention that is focused and bring it into a space where having images and text together in one space allows for our individual messages to be amplified by so many scales that you almost can’t ignore it. It’s great to get the potential of so much attention from people walking by or even taking a photo of one of the poems or images, then they upload it or start a conversation with a friend by sending it to them.
Antonia Marsh: I think we forget about the tangible effect and the transformative power that art can have, and with this, the agenda is so urgent.