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Beautiful Trash

American artist C Finley wallpapers over New York City's dumpsters and forces us all to consider the magnitude of human waste

If C. Finley's Wallpapered Dumpster Project is a protest, it's the the prettiest, least violent protest we've ever seen. The American artist, now based in Rome, is busy beautifying dumpsters, so that she can both cover up urban waste and reveal its magnitude. With Finley's “polite graffiti” popping up in New York, at Bowery and Stanton – conveniently near the New Museum, where she hopes to catch a certain curator's eye -– we rang her up to talk a little trash.

Dazed Digital: Where did you do your first dumpster project, and why?
C. Finley: I worked as a set dresser in Los Angeles, and lots of my friends and art directors had extra wallpaper from photo shoots. So I decided to do an urban intervention by wallpapering dumpsters near a port in Los Angeles. I was in awe of the waste. It was just immense. Then I did two in Rome, which is where I'm living now. I'm working on getting a grant to do ten dumpsters in ten cities all around Europe.

DD: So what's the idea? Are you making trash look pretty so we'll be forced to really look at it?
CF: Right, I think with these urban throaway zones, people do their best not to look at them because they're ugly. I want to inspire people to rethink consumption and urban waste... It's environmental activisim turning into unexpected beauty. So when I wallpaper these dumpsters on Bowery, there's going to be a short video about how to wallpaper your own dumpster, to get this happening around. People are really into street art and want to participate.

DD: It's kind of the opposite of graffiti.
CF: It's polite graffiti, exactly. I like to call it polite graffiti because it's sweet, and it's something that draws activism, art, feminization and beauty all together. To me wallpaper is feminine, it's beautiful, it's decor, and to put that outside on something so obviously brutish -- it's a simple twist that I think everyone can enjoy.

DD: So dumpsters are masculine, then?
CF: (Laughs) Yes. Dumpsters are brutes.

DD: What kind of response are you getting? Do you ever hide behind the dumpsters and watch people reacting?
CF: In Italy it was really amazing because the dumpster was outside my house, and near a grocery store. All the checkokut clerks were smoking and looking at it and asking friends questions. Then I went to the local coffee shop and everyone was telling the customers to go see it. They just loved it.