THE FIRST TIME I ARRIVED on the scene of the Art Bin, a huge, see-through Perspex and steel container at the South London Gallery, I spotted the artwork’s creator, Michael Landy. He was immaculately attired, wearing a black suit and white gloves. With the coolness of an auctioneer, he hastened to the top of the staircase to dispose of one of his own 2008 pencil portraits—it took the five-metre drop and joined the other discarded art in the giant bin. Viewers witnessed the framed work smash to smithereens. Against the gallery wall, waiting to join the common grave, stood a three-metre-long glistening painting of a skull by Damien Hirst. As work after work was dropped inside the art bin, the public registered their barometric approval or disapproval with cheers or whistling.
“The meaning of trash would seem to lie in a surreal absurdity, but by taking it seriously, this very quality may come to illuminate the real absurdity of the situation in which it is produced,” wrote the Marxist art historian Julian Stallabrass in Gargantua: Manufactured Mass Culture, (1996). Today, as the UK attempts to scramble out of one of its worst-ever recessions (Britain has endured eight recessions since WWII), Michael Landy hopes to raise questions around the nature, value and overproduction of art in times of boom as well as bust—by trashing it.
For Art Bin, which opened on 29 January, Landy has converted the South London Gallery space into a 600 cubic metre rubbish bin for the disposal of unwanted works of art. For a period of six weeks, the performance/installation will give artists the opportunity to destroy their own creative failures and throw them into the bin. After the show closes on 14 March, the gallery will have all the objects permanently disposed of in a landfill.