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Trash is something New Yorkers have a day-to-day relationship with. When you’re not organizing your plastics, papers, and that-which-will-never-decompose into their respective colored bags (pretty sure the according order is clear, blue, and black, but the tickets I’ve received over the course of the last two years might prove otherwise), you’re passing it on the street, sidestepping someone else’s garbage floating in the lake-like moat pooling at the end of your block. Such are the hazards of urban life, where we—and all our subsequent refuse—are thrown in and piled together like an urban grab bag.
Turning lemons into lemonade is Tom Pfannerstill, a mixed-media artist whose “From the Street” series takes that KFC bucket someone so carelessly threw out a car window and makes art out of it. While Caravaggio was harvesting fruit and flowers from the garden for his Renaissance still-life paintings (much cleaner), Pfannerstill depends on litterers for his material, plucking up everything from White Castle soda cups to cardboard carriers for Guinness 6-packs to use in his work.
It’d be one thing if he were just snapping a picture and calling it a day, satisfied with a documented social commentary on branding, consumption, and human wastefulness. Instead, what Pfannerstill does takes it one (or nine) steps further, using his street findings and recreating them as carved wooden sculptures, painted with every label, smudge, and tear sported on the original, effectively giving that which is meant to be thrown away permanence.
The concern here, of course, is the nature of time, and the artist’s attempt to give weight to the weightless. “These objects have a lifespan,” Pfannerstill says of his own work, “from their production through their usefulness to their ultimate disposal. As such, I see them as ‘memento mori,’ reminders of mortality and the corresponding corollary ‘carpe diem.’”
So seize the day and just drop that coffee cup right in the gutter*, where Pfannerstill is sure to find it and turn your lowbrow littering into highbrow culture. The artist prefers his subjects look like they’ve been run over a few times and dragged through the mud, which is kind of how any New Yorker feels at one point or another.
*Actually, don’t do that.
Images courtesy of the artist and Jonathan Novak Gallery.