I was walking in the East Village with my dog, stopping for him to pee and for me to take a photo of a cigarette butt flattened in a crack in the sidewalk, when it struck me – are these recyclable? They’re everywhere. Beyond grabbing my attention for arty butt shots, they really shouldn’t be everywhere I look. Turns out, yes, they are recyclable. And that was it. I finally knew WHAT TrashTara would be collecting in her Catch-All…
Since late April, I’ve been a Co-Create Artist in Residence at The IMC LAB + GALLERY, owned by James Tunick and Carrie Elston-Tunick. Loving it! While here, I’ve created my latest alter ego, TrashTara, and been out on the streets of Manhattan. She/me has been hand-collecting those butts, the most littered object in the world, while talking to people and gathering footage with a GoPro.
TrashTara in Tompkins Square Park, East Village. Photo courtesy of Stanley Raffes.
Most people don’t know that cigarette butts are such a huge problem for the environment or that they can be recycled. After the last relaxing drag, there’s satisfaction in flicking them to the ground to roll their way into cracks, storm drains, and gutters.
Strom drain on Ave B in East Village
It needs to seep into the mainstream knowledge that cigarettes have non-biodegradable plastic filters, and that nicotine is a very toxic pesticide. Each butt could spend 10 years tossing around in the ocean and water supply killing wildlife and polluting ourselves. One cigarette butt can kill fish in a liter of water. TerraCycle has initiated placing receptacles in cities around the world, and inviting people to join their butt brigades to send in cigarette butts. I’d like to set up a TrashTara Butt Brigade so that every pound of butts collected by those collaborating with me will result in $1 towards Living Sea Sculpture coral reef habitat.
The tar-filled filters can be cleaned and transformed into plastic pallets, anti-corrosives for steel, and textiles. If we can get the 4.5 trillion of them off the ground and into the up-cycling circuit – I heard SF spends $11 million each year on cigarette collection alone – we can save lots of lives and money.
When TrashTara is out at night, her headdress, or as synthetic biologist, Oliver Medvedik, co-founder of GenSpace calls it, her “GMO Tiara,” has fluorescing proteins that come from corals and jellies. With the addition of Ultra Violet LEDs, the GFP and RFP glow. I wanted to avoid plastic resins, and am fascinated with bioluminescence and fluorescence in nature, so we collaborated to create a potentially controversial object. Synthetic biology is complex; the layers of ethics, philosophy, politics, and science involved in genetic research are many and divisive, so I’m grateful I had the opportunity to experiment with proteins as paints to get closer to the reality of how vast this field is and how the concept of “GMO” is completely unknown to most of us in a hands-on way.
TrashTara buttpicking in Gramercy
Also for the upcoming show, James Tunick and I have been developing the first prototypes for Respire – The Coral Corollary, an interactive, multimedia immersive exhibit correlating coral health with human health incorporating data, kinetic sculpture, audio and video so that through their senses and emotions, participants feel connected to corals, the living, breathing animals and plants that share our world with us and take care of us in so many ways. They need us to redesign how we perceive and intersect with their habitat if they are to survive. James is programming micro-controllers that sense human participant and ocean data to trigger responsive movement, lighting, and effects in the sculptures and space.
I hope you can come to the show! TrashTara will be at the opening.
photo by Colby Cannon