Culture sheds itself like dead skin cells into the void of trash oblivion and is reborn every generation with a new mask. We collectively purge the past to make way for new growth. The dumpsters of America are filled with our collective secrets and historical legacies. Sometimes I find myself digging around in a dumpster filled with the leftover remnants of a person’s life, and find myself wondering, why the death purge is so indiscriminate and are we losing something vastly important to the careless renewal of time?
As this planet shifts around a vast solar system in the circular patterns of the eons, we leave a human mark that is both temporal and necessary. I believe our collective memory could use some real, in the dirt analysis of what we are losing in the consumer conveyor belt of historical waste and I contend the current reflection of who we are, is also found in the dumpsters of the world.
I coined the term “Death Purge” in 2015 to describe a certain type of Dumpster discovery. All across America with a generational mass, our ageing populations are slowly being downsized into dumpsters. From the traditionally old, to the surprise passing of those without loved ones or biological heirs. The newly dead are leaving their legacy in apartment buildings and dilapidated homes. Dumpsters fill with photographs, art, antiques, collectibles, books and even our own written history as “the trash” becomes the last stop to dissolution.
The Dumpster Archeology project, is a series of collections based on these Death Purge discoveries. People’s legacies which ended up being saved from a dumpster, being used for inspiration and artistic creations. Dozens of solidly fascinating human souls have been rediscovered from complete abandonment back into the cultural zeitgeist. The project has grown a lot from the first experiments in Artistic storytelling, however I haven’t fully fleshed out what a “death purge” is, to a definitive popular opinion. The Death Purge and it’s value has yet to be truly understood by the public, so I endeavor to solidify the term by I exploring several key discoveries and their impact.
An easily discovered example of a Death Purge can be found in any suburban town in America, often in older neighborhoods where homeowners have resided for decades. The massive industrial walk-in dumpster will appear in the driveway and is quickly filled with the “junk” of the householder or new owner. Each tragic circumstantial reason for the dumpster is quickly understood as one pokes their head over the edge. A Death purge is obvious for it’s private personal possessions and quality of reusable items. It has the air of the indiscriminate.
The Dumpster Purges in my possession, I discovered across the St Louis landscape, from suburban homes to inner city alleyways. They had a certain unique charm to them that prompted an examination and personal story that left an emotional bond between me and the lost soul. The unique personality in each collection appealed to the Artist in me and the storytelling potentials within.
These Death Purges don’t just have substance, they have roots that go back deep in the history of a neighborhood, St Louis city, and it’s unfolding into western spaces.
At the heart of Dumpster Archeology and the Death Purge is a growing idea and a true unanswerable question. What are we losing? If I look randomly into a dumpster, finding facets of my own psyche in the stories and lives within, and then discover inspiration in perfect strangers, what else are we losing? We are told that psychics are not real, but Carrie Seib operated as one for 30 years and regardless if you believe in the ability or not, Carrie affected the historical landscape in which she thrived.
Is an artist a failure if culture forgets them? Randy Titus, Edna Seib, and Edward Menges all had art found in a dumpster and I contend they are worthy of our collective attention. It was simply circumstances that caused the cultural forgetting, not talent.
When an old photograph has no story behind it, no name written in bad cursive on the back, than what is it to anyone? The mementos of the past are only important if the story is passed on. Objects discovered that seem to have no discernible purpose, at one time served something in some capacity, and it is that purpose and meaning that should be discovered. The stories we lose in the manic indiscriminate tossing of fate, is only a glimmer of what it meant to exist in this moment of history.
What if for one moment, we look for inspiration in that which is about to be lost forever. Deep in the dumpsters across our land, a history of our Great Existing slips by unnoticed.
There is a photograph I have from the Randy Titus Collection, discovered in a South Grand alleyway, of Randy and an old man named Marcel Salinas. Like Randy, Marcel was a classically trained painter and philosopher. Marcel trained under Pablo Picasso and is considered to be one of the great 20th century painters, but time had forgot him and he ended up growing old in St Louis, a city that didn’t know who he was. He would go to the Museum and point out paintings, history and give his opinion of the work. I imagine that Randy would meet him there surrounded by fine Art and remaining enthralled by his artistic knowledge. In 2002, the Riverfront Times did a piece on Marcel Salinas before his death and he had one more moment of fame.
In the same manner I honor the legacy of all my dumpster discovered souls with a moment of remembrance for a forgotten legacy with an artistic offerings. Sometimes I have to remember that the Death Purge is only the beginning of the Story. Dumpster Archeology is like a chrysalis, growing into something unique and then it will fly away to thrive in the sun, one last time.
Death Purge: … to rid yourself of the possessions of the deceased in an indiscriminate way, and be free of the guilt of letting go.
Dumpster Archeology- Death Purge: … a collection of historical items discovered in a Dumpster relating to the history of a forgotten soul.
Dumpster Archeology: … is an Art form representing the communal creation of storytelling experiences, discovered artifacts from a dumpster and inspirational narrative expressions.