Sympathy for the abject: (re)assessing assemblages of waste with an embedded artist-in-residence

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The assemblages of (post)industrial neoliberal society include the production of vast quantities of post-consumer materials categorized as waste, which for many appears to vanish from everyday spaces. But rather than make it disappear in any final sense, recycling and disposal processes simply move it in new forms into new places within the global flows of waste. In urban contexts, the abject category of waste must be expelled from the sanitary spaces and subjectivities of daily routines, yet its corresponding absence in everyday perception obviates the urgency of action. One approach to unbundling the abject residue of contemporary society without instigating castastrophic rupture of social orders is through the aestheticization of the expelled. Artists working in the realm of abjection can serve as agents disrupting and redefining boundaries and social imaginaries of the status quo. In this paper we examine an artist-in-residence at the Edmonton (Canada) Waste Management Centre, arguing that the Deleuzian assemblages erasing the material consequences of garbage can be short-circuited in a municipal setting by redistributions of aesthetic experience. In this case, the artist residency embedded in human and mechanical assemblages of waste disposal allowed the artist to transform materials into an aesthetic spectacle recategorizing the abject as sympathetic and a vital component of social and spatial discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1682224
JournalJournal of Aesthetics and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2019


  • Assemblage theory
  • abject
  • aesthetics
  • artist-in-residence


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