Plastic Landfill

Fotografie von Benjamin Von Wong – #TurnOffThePlasticTab

Benjamin Von Wong develops expansive, partly site-specific installations, which he uses as tableaux for poetic sceneries in staged photographs. The focus is always on man and his relationship to nature. Questions of sustainability or the purpose-benefit rationality of economic structures in global contexts are the artist's starting points. Wong explicitly describes his projects as "campaigns" with which the artist wants to generate attention for certain political-economic issues. The installations are created in very elaborate processes lasting months, which Wong documents photographically. The exploration and confrontation with the material chosen for the installation has a special significance here: through its specific aesthetics, the material develops the references and content-related implications with which we are to confront ourselves when viewing the works. Two "campaigns" with video and photographs will be presented at esc medien kunst labor: #TurnOffThePlasticTab (2022) and Where are your clothes born? / Fashion Tornado (2009).

With the project #TurnOffThePlasticTab, Wong responded to an agreement for the use of plastic. The installation Giant Plastic Tap was created, consisting of plastic waste collected in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. In cooperation with NGOs and the support of many local volunteers, the fifteen-metre-high installation was realised. The location of the installation also played a special role in this project: the installation was staged in front of the UN headquarters in Nairobi, where a UN congress on the worldwide handling of plastic was held at the time. The artist's aim was not only to raise awareness among consumers, but also among producers and especially those who would be in a political position to change something. This political impetus is evident in all of the artist's "campaigns": not only are individuals called upon to make their behaviour more sustainable, but global political actors are also addressed. As the artist writes about the project: „Too much of the plastic conversation revolves around recycling and cleanups – but those only deal with the consequences, and not the root cause. The real solution and opportunity is getting plastic production back under control by making sure we #TurnOffThePlasticTap.“

The project Where are your clothes born? / Fashion Tornado arose from the artistic examination of the question of the production, consumption and discarding of our clothes. Wong was particularly concerned with the problem of "fast fashion" - clothing that is produced quickly and as "cheaply" as possible and then quickly thrown away. In 2009, during his travels in Cambodia, the artist developed the concept of using discarded clothing as material for installations. Wong found a place to realise his installations in a factory hall that had been empty for some time and used to produce clothes. In collaboration with Laura Francois and the company "Dorsu", which focuses on the sustainable production of clothing, the concept of Where are your clothes born? / Fashion Tornado was realised. In our throwaway society, thousands of tons of brand-new clothes are thrown away - which, in the meantime, lead to massive problems elsewhere in the world as rubbish. The artist also wanted to raise awareness of how much energy it takes to produce a single shirt from cotton (2700 litres of water!). For the installation, hundreds of bags full of clothes were first sifted through and sorted by colour. Afterwards, the clothes were partly disassembled and rearranged as material of different installations. For example, a metre-high waterfall seemingly breaking out of the walls of an empty factory building was created, a tree consisting of bamboo and strands of fabric knotted together, or an organic-looking structure swinging up to the ceiling of an old factory like a tornado. The processes of creating the installations were documented photographically from the beginning. In addition, numerous staged photographs were taken with the installations and models, which are very elaborately produced in the costumes etc.. In the process, the human being moves centrally into the field of vision as an actor in the stagings. As the artist said about the project: "This means that each piece of clothing we buy has a hidden environmental cost to the air that we breathe and the water that we drink.

With the readymade (e.g. Marcel Duchamp's Fountain from 1917), everyday objects of use were transferred into the context of art. The conceptual aestheticisation of the everyday object into a work of art, in the sense of its deconstruction and/or decontextualisation and recomposition, has been an artistic method used since modernism. The material of the object became particularly important in this process.  Wong's choice of material consists of many different elements that can basically be subsumed under the term "everyday object". The artist's choice to use discarded clothing, plastic or electronic waste etc. for his installations reveals a significant conceptual meaning: a play with association is to take place and, moreover, a consciousness is to be generated - a reflection on materiality and appreciation within the capitalist throwaway society is to be activated. By using everyday objects that have been thrown away, Wong consciously plays with the social and cultural codes of those materials. Through their materiality and specific material aesthetics, the artist's installations become resistances to the ideology of the affluent society. The term "hypertrophy", adopted by Benjamin Buchloh from medicine, describes the growth of organs by means of synthesis of the individual cells. Buchloh describes certain works by the artist Thomas Hirschhorn as a "hypertrophic symbol of consumer culture", which, through their simple materiality in the sense of everyday objects, unite the stages of production - use - and throwing away the goods as waste into an object state, into a synthesis. In this way, Wong's installations could also be interpreted as "hypertrophic symbols of consumer culture": Production - use - and discarding of the commodity are thematised in Wong's work not only through the specific material of the installations, but especially through the political attention that the artist wants to develop through the negotiated content. In the spirit of this year's annual programme of the esc medien kunst labor, Wong devotes himself very clearly to that desert of realities by revealing hidden mechanisms and systems behind a product like a shirt. What means throwaway society here is already a massive rubbish problem or climatic catastrophe elsewhere in the world. With his works, Wong ultimately tries to reveal the "matrix" to us, in the knowledge that only awareness of the other reality could change one's own reality.

For "Desert of Realities", esc medien kunst labor developed an installation with photographs and videos by Wong that extends the exhibition into public space. Two subjects from the photographic work series were selected for the projects, Plastic Landfill and ⁄. Made of nylon vinyl, Wong's photographs span the Kunstverein - in the exhibition space, documentation of the projects is presented as videos on screens. Wong thus already encounters us when we approach the Kunstverein - to fully grasp the installation, we have to wander around the Kunstverein, "looking at everything from several sides" to get a complete picture of the installation. Wong thus raises an awareness at the moment we approach the exhibition spatially and physically - perhaps also in order to consciously perceive the negotiated content in the exhibition, as quoted in the text for the exhibition Morpheus from Matrix: "The matrix is the world put over your eyes so that you are blind to the truth."