As part of his residency with New York City’s sanitation department, artist Sto Len has launched a project questioning our “out of sight, out of mind” approach to trash. The Office of In Visibility encompasses an ongoing video series of behind-the-scenes footage related to garbage collection in New York, made from film canisters discovered under a slop sink at a sanitation department facility. Len has digitised some of this footage, creating videos tinged with psychedelic colours and overlaid with choppy voices and ambient noise. Some of the images are more than a century old.
“I came into the project with an open mind, and surprisingly discovered that the sanitation department had a print studio and a television studio, with all these obsolete archival materials,” Len says. “No one has looked at these things in decades but they are extremely valuable; more than the history of sanitation, they tell the history of New York itself.”
Beyond recycling abandoned footage into art, Len is also crowdsourcing part of the project. He launched an online study that invites contributors to consider their waste habits through a series of prompts that aims to animate their trash, from photographing their last discarded item to imagining the “ideal afterlife” for an object. The submissions will be viewable online and included in a future exhibition.