plums for trash / Сливи за смет (slivi za smet) / ciruelas por basura


Plums for Trash is a participatory work involving the general publics of New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria.  Collaborating with Elana Resnick, a longtime friend and anthropologist, researching waste management in Sofia, I created a mobile market for international trash exchange.  Working with the economist Richard C. Porter’s  definition of waste (“anything that is no longer privately valued by its owner”),  over the summer of 2011, I collected my own waste (mostly clothes, shoes, handbags and books) from New York and carried it in a pink suitcase to Bulgaria.  Elana and I then traded my waste items with people in various markets throughout Sofia, from craftspeople to sellers of vintage goods. 

Part of Elana’s work in Sofia over the last nine years has involved Roma (Gypsy) integration issues.  With the help of Elana and her friends from the Roma neighborhood of Fakulteta, we also traded my objects with other Roma in Fakulteta and in a large flea market, known as Bitak (a place many “white” Bulgarians told me they would never visit because of its Gypsy population).  Many people at Bitak make a living selling objects they have gathered from the trash, while others sell objects from home they no longer want.  While Bitak is home to some of the city’s most effective recyclers,  their work is often disregarded and they are typically considered outside of mainstream Bulgarian society.

In the fall of 2011, with my new Bulgarian trash items (including a wedding dress and a Bulgarian taxi roof light), I exchanged these objects in public spaces throughout New York City (Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, Zuccotti Park, Hunter College Open Studios, and St. Nicholas of Tolentine Flea Market) for objects that were no longer desired by their owners.  In April 2012, I exhibited the New York trash items at The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate in Sofia, where I invited visitors to bring unwanted objects for exchanging.  Elana and I also returned to Bitak to trade with people there and invite them to the closing reception of the exhibition at Red House.  For the final party we invited the public to bring their unwanted objects for trading with one another.  The opportunity to barter resulted in an event where people of diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds exchanged stories and objects in a uniquely integrated social space.

I returned to New York in May 2012, with the fourth generation of waste objects and presented them for my MFA thesis exhibition, inviting visitors to continue the exchange by trading their trash objects.  As waste management is an international issue, I am taking the project to other countries where reuse and alternative forms of exchange are particularly relevant.  As an artist-in-residence in the SOMA Summer program in Mexico City during July and August 2012, I continued Plums for Trash both in Mexico City and in many small towns throughout the country.

As we know, many aspects of American culture are heavily influenced by consumerism, a cycle which inherently ends with waste. I hope that Plums for Trash gives viewers an opportunity to consider their relationship to this cycle of production, consumption, and waste.  Also by asking the public to pick through their own things and exchange their waste for the waste of someone else, I hope to destigmatize the act of trash-picking, allowing creative reuse of resources to become a normal part of our culture.