Karin Sander at n.b.k.

My natural tendency, when looking at trash in an art gallery, is to play detective and treat the waste as anthropological evidence. For her solo show at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Karin Sander has cut six holes in the floor of the gallery’s administrative office where trash cans used to sit. Located directly above the gallery, the administration’s waste now falls down from the office space as it’s created and collects into piles on the gallery floor.

Karin Sander, Exhibition view Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2011 © Neuer Berliner Kunstverein/Jens Ziehe

While I could discern where the accountant sat, and maybe the person who opens mail, there was a distinct lack of personality to the trash.  I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but there wasn’t even a single paper coffee cup, let alone food waste, or used Kleenex. One week in, and the most individualizing piece of trash I saw was an empty bag of hard candy. I got the sense that the content was being consciously controlled. So too felt the state of the trashed articles.

Crumpled up paper constitutes the majority of each pile. The act of crumpling, far from an efficient business practice, is the act of the frustrated writer we see in films, passionately struggling at their typewriter. It typically denotes angst towards the text being discarded. It is not simply that the paper has lost its functional use at one’s desk, but that it’s worthless, a failed attempt. Assuming all of the employees don’t loath their jobs, all of this crumpling activity could be the result of trash aestheticization (which I wouldn’t totally discount), or it could simply be the novelty of tossing one’s trash into a seemingly underground pit.

Karin Sander, Exhibition view (Director’s Office, first floor) Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2011 © Neuer Berliner Kunstverein/Jens Ziehe

A sizable piece of cardboard was ripped up by hand and sent down in smaller chunks, rather than simply putting the piece in a more appropriately sized receptacle. Some paper with non-sensitive information was torn into one inch squares that must have floated down like confetti. While the shift in roles of administrators and artists, and the ecological aspects around Sander’s work could certainly be discussed, what piqued my interest was the effort I felt on the part of the waste-makers to affect their piles, if not with an interest in aesthetics, with a conscious labouring over the materials.

Administrative duties in any field, I can attest, have a tendency to be fraught with tedious tasks and bureaucratic detail and sometimes it’s necessary to find ways to make those tasks more bearable. Being aware that their garbage is on display may elevate anxiety over what a worker throws out, but if nothing more, the activity provides a new way to break up the day by making a game out of waste disposal. While the individual piles may not provide insight into the anthropology of the administrative gallery worker, Sander’s intervention does highlight the ease at which a psychological shift can occur in a white collar worker with minimal spatial changes.

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