In this research project, Katrin Korfmann uses the visual, conceptual and technical aspects of her photography practice to critically reflect on the photographic image as waste. Her research takes her into the field, to visit numerous waste processing plants, but also deeper into her own practice and her studio, where she experiments with artistic methods to generate new forms of the photographic image, through the juxtaposition and entanglement of waste processing procedures and variants of image production, editing and storage.
It is well known that globally we produce a huge amount of physical garbage but we also generate an enormous amount of digital image debris. As a photographer, I feel an urgency to reflect on this topic. Therefore, my artistic research centers on how I can use the visual, conceptual, and technical aspects of my practice to critically reflect on this underexplored aspect of the Wasteocene. I am interested in how artistic research methods might be used to generate extended, processed, dismantled, altered, assembled forms of the photographic image, through the juxtaposition of the systems of waste reprocessing, the circular economy, and image production. By working with theoretical concepts such as Compositionism, Assemblage, and Bricolage, I develop alternative images that I hope will contribute to a clearer artistic positioning and understanding of depicting waste in the ‘Climate Regime’.
Researching alternative artistic methods to critically reflect on the Wasteocene, through the juxtaposition of waste reprocessing systems and image production.
Keywords: WASTE, PHOTOGRAPHIC PRODUCTION, WASTE REPROCESSING SYSTEMS, POST PRODUCTION, COMPOSITIONISM, MAKING THROUGH ASSEMBLAGE, PROCESS, TERRITORY, MAPS
It is well known that globally we produce a huge amount of physical garbage but the fact that we also generate an enormous quantity of digital image debris is discussed much less. Every day millions of photographic images are produced, shared, ignored, discarded, and forgotten (O'Hagan 2018). We live in times of visual acceleration, consuming and producing more and more images in less and less time.
Through our increasing deployment of multiple captures, bursts, post-production edits, and our prolific sharing, the photographic image exists in a state of continual flux. The quality of cameras on our smartphones is continually improving. We now have the possibility of scanning the world around us at any moment everywhere. I am because I can capture, archive, and share my experience in the form of a photograph. In turn, this becomes my memory and the glue for building our virtual world. But whereas memories can be forgotten, image data is burned on hard disks and stored in infinite growing digital landfills or virtual clouds (Bettilyon 2019).
My artistic research centers on how I can use the visual, conceptual, and technical aspects of my work as a photographer to critically reflect on the Wasteocene. Along with the term Anthropocene, a variety of alternative names such as Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene, Gynecene, Homogenocene, and Plasticene have been introduced by different writers and artists (Demos 2017, Chapter 5).
The term Wasteocene was coined by Marco Armiero in 2018. During his lecture ‘Welcome to the Wasteocene’ he frames waste ‘not as an object – “waste” – but as “wasting relationships” based on the ways through consuming and “othering”, we make decisions about what and who is waste.’ (Thill 2015, 8)
At this point, I want to approach waste as a universal artifact interconnected with human existence or, as English professor Brian Thill puts it, ‘Waste is the expression of expended, transmuted, or suspended desire, and is, therefore, the ur-object. To talk about waste is to talk about every other object that has ever existed or will ever exist. Conversely, to talk about any object at all is to gesture towards its ultimate annihilated state. Waste is every object plus time.’
As a photographer, I am interested in what ways artistic research methods can be used to generate extended, processed, dismantled, altered, or assembled forms of the photographic image, through the juxtaposition of waste reprocessing systems, circular systems, and image production.
I photographically depict collected waste that was generated in my direct surroundings and will be processed, recycled, or re-used. Then using methods distilled from such concepts as assemblage and Compositionism, I start to construct and deconstruct my photographs. To be more precise, I investigate the relationship between the systems of waste sorting and those of photographic production, editing, sorting, and re-composition. Here, I am not looking for new art forms, but for alternative ones.
For this project I work with the following key concepts:
In his ‘Compositionist Manifesto’, Bruno Latour offers a toolkit of inspiring methodologies that I apply on a philosophical as well as practical level when creating new works (Latour 2010, 473). For him, ‘Compositionism’ includes all the things that have to be put together and all the meanings of the word, such as composition but also decomposition, compost, compromise, and even failure.
Latour proposes different strategies of ‘moving on’ in the Climate Regime ‘...making explicit (that is, manifest) a subtle but radical transformation in the definition of what it means to progress, that is to process, forward and meet new prospects. Not a war cry for an avant-garde to move even further and faster ahead, but rather as a warning, a call to attention, so as to stop going further in the same way as before towards the future. The nuance I want to outline is between progress and progressive. It is as if we had to move from an idea of inevitable progress to one of tentative and precautionary progression’.
Secondly, I use aspects from Bricolage (Scalbert 2011, 73) in the practical and conceptual making of my works and re-use the visual appearance of waste, which is connected to the idea of making use of the existing waste and transforming it into something other, namely artworks.
Thirdly, I include Assemblage as an artistic method in the creation of my art. My ‘making through assemblage’ is inspired by Ana Lowenhaupt Tsing’s concept of ‘thinking through assemblages’. In her research on the life and possibilities of the Matsutake mushroom, she is introducing the term when talking about different liveways of nonhuman and human ways of being (Lowenhaupt Tsing 2017, 23). Her writing is inspiring to me as she not only gives examples of assemblage applied in ‘the real world’ (e.g. biology and sociology) but also offers suggestions in the definition of nonhuman/human liveways that are guiding my thoughts on possible visual translations of humans living with and caring about their trash into artworks.
Finally, I apply elements to my artwork that assign structure, grid, navigation, and measuring, speculating on our attempt to ‘get a grip’ on the anthropocentric mess we made out of our world (Demos 2017, 28). Can coordinate guide us out of the apocalypse we are facing?
Accordingly, I introduce the aerial view and visual suggestions that refer to landscape, mapping, surveying, borders, and cartography. Here I want to evoke and recall connections with sociopolitical and economical structures that are clearly linked to the dilemmas of the ‘Climate Regime’. When leaving the rigid rectangular structure of the photographic image and transforming the ground of my artwork into an unframed form, I head to fictive and imaginary landscapes and borders. By looking at the work, the viewer can zoom in and out, gazing at the local and the global, the close-up and the overview.
Within the image, no horizon nor perspective is presented. That way the border of my photograph is becoming unfixed. These images are leaving the frame, depicting alien territory and undiscovered terrain.
Among the several artistic research methods I have developed for this project are the following:
Hoarding, that is capturing, collecting, and archiving multiple image data; photographic layering of time, in this case, experimentation with several exposure times merged into one image;
Photo editing, in detail, testing several methods of sorting, selecting, and ordering, digital and analog image data e.g. logical ordering and intuitive categorizing;
Post-production, for instance, collaging and assembling, in short testing diverse collage techniques, analog and digital, automated, and by hand; e.g. merging images, stacking images, flattening images and practicing composing, decomposing; scaling, transforming, and applying mapping and orientation tools;
Constructing and deconstructing that is to say gluing, copying and pasting versus cutting and shredding techniques or applying contrasting in and outline shapes and inversions, analog and digital cutting, examining methods of systematic and nonsystematic cutting, laser cutting, hand cutting, shredding by hand and machine with and without system;
Material research specifically trying out various photographic materials for printing, sublimation, and mounting, such as paper, wood, fabric, metal, and glass;
and finally re-using material and imagery in a direct or metaphysical way or to be more precise:
I let the physical waste re-appear as the main agent of my photographic imagery.
Besides applying and experimenting with conceptual and technical thinking in my artistic practice, I also include associative, intuitive, and unconscious processes in my artistic making including popping up emotions, reflections, connecting strings and feelings that I collect and assemble consciously and unconsciously when I feed myself through artistic research, reading secondary sources and learning about my key topics. All that is so to say resulting in the telepathic embodiment of the artwork. Consequently, these methods merge and intertwine, get mixed, and shake up with my theoretical research into concepts such as the Wastocene, Compositionism, thinking through Assemblage, outlines, borders, and grids, and finally lead into image-making all inspired by my research into recycling, circular and waste economy.
Katrin Korfmann, December 2020
Armiero, Marco. ‘Welcome to the Wasteocene.’ Space 4235, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2020. space4235.com/archives/fumogeni-2-marco-armiero%C2%A0.
Bettilyon, Tyler Elliot. ‘How Data Hoarding Is the New Threat to Privacy and Climate Change.’ Medium. OneZero, August 1, 2019. November 20, 2020. onezero.medium.com/how-data-hoarding-is-the-new-threat-to-privacy-and-climate-change-1e5a21a49494.
Demos, T. J. Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2017.
Latour, Bruno. Essay. In An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’, 473. New Literary History, 2010.
Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna. Essay. In The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, 23. Tantor Audio, 2017.
O'Hagan, Sean. ‘What next for photography in the age of Instagram?’ The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, October 14, 2018. Accessed June 8, 2020. theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/14/future-photography-in-the-age-of-instagram-essay-sean-o-hagan.
Scalbert, Irénée. ‘The Architect as Bricoleur.’ Essay, 73. Candide. Journal for Architectural Knowledge No. 04, 2011.
Thill, Brian. Essay. In Waste, 8. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.
Katrin Korfmann is an artist-photographer whose work incorporates a critical attitude towards the world around her, explicitly with regard to contemporary visual culture. Using a multitude of images taken by herself, she investigates their historical, social and visual effects. Katrin creates a suggestion of distance and proximity at the same time and depicts realities, which neither the eye, nor the artist’s camera could have grasped. Her images are both an interpretation of her experience and of collective social memory.
Katrin grew up in Berlin but has lived and worked in Amsterdam since 1995. She studied Photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and continued her research during her residencies at the Rijksakademie, both in Amsterdam, Cittadellarte Biella, Akademie der Künste Berlin, and the Chinese European Art Centre in Xiamen, China. She has won several prizes for her work, including the Radostar Prize (CH), Prix de Rome (2nd prize), Mama Cash Award (NL), and the Esther Kroon Award (NL), and received grants from international institutions like the Robert Bosch Foundation, Würth Foundation and Mondriaan Fund (NL).
Since the late 1990s her work has been exhibited internationally in galleries, museums, alternative art, and public spaces, including Photography Museum Rotterdam, GEM Museum of Contemporary Art, The Hague (NL); Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas; Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles; Aperture New York (US); Three Shadows Art Centre and CEAC, Xiamen, OFOTO, Shanghai, (CN); Azad Gallery, Tehran, (IR), Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Frankfurter Kunstverein, DE and many others.