Gayle Chong Kwan

Waste Archipelago (2021)

Photographs, wooden stands, printed vinyl, processions, video, lecture/workshops, publication, online resource, reclaimed vinyl print as pencil cases.

Waste Archipelago
Galerie Alberta Pane
and Ca' Foscari University
Biennale Architettura

22 May - 11 September 2021

As winner of the 2019 Sustainable Art Prize Gayle Chong Kwan developed photographic, installation, public realm and event-based work that explores waste through the prism of the archipelago – the interconnectedness of how we conceive of, create, and manage waste through our actions, beliefs, and bodies. Gayle Chong Kwan worked with students and academics at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice to explore theories, perspectives, and our lived experience of waste through a series of workshops and sessions 'Waste Matters' through which she developed the works in Waste Archipelago, including photographic collage, sculpture, and performance, to explore our bodies, the anecdotal, the herbarium, and recent major oil spills in relation to waste. 'Waste Archipelago' published by Ca' Foscari University.

In 2019 I was awarded the Sustainable Art Prize by Arte Verona and Sostenibile Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. As recipient of the prize I was invited to develop a project with students and academics at Ca’ Foscari University to explore issues of sustainability related to one or more of the seventeen goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I decided to develop practical and theoretical sessions to explore different perspectives on and our lived experience of waste, which I called Waste Matters. Whilst previous prize winners had developed projects in which students became involved in the physical making of the work, I wanted to involve them from first moment in a collective thinking and making. I wanted the work to develop out of the sessions, as a form of devised practice in which the process is not determined from the outset, but in which outcomes are temporal manifestations of the thinking and making together. I also brought this approach to the sessions by developing each in relation to reflections on the previous session, and in response to the students’ engagement, the academics’ research, and by thinking through relevant texts. The loose title of the project, Waste Matters, pivots between the two words and their meanings and has an urgency to stress the importance of its subject. Themes that I focused on included waste in terms of matter out of place, classification and colonialism, the herbarium and botanical, waste as vibrant matter, mapping domestic and societal waste, and exploring food, recipes, and familial memories through waste.

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At the time of developing the project 'Waste Matters' with students and academics at Ca' Foscari University in Venice, I was particularly struck by the ecological consequences of the MV Wakashio oil spill near the marine park of Blue Bay in Mauritius, the island of my father’s birth, and the construction of homemade ballasts by local people using straw and hair to soak up the oil in the water. Through the process of thinking and making with the students and academics at Ca’ Foscari, and my connections with ecological disasters occurring at that moment in the place of my father’s birth, I began to create 'Waste Archipelago', 2021, a new body of photographic, installation, and event-based work that explores waste through the prism of the archipelago, and the interconnectedness of how we conceive of, create, and manage waste through our relationships with objects and our bodies.

I started to explore issues and activities relating to waste, focused around a video work, Plot, that I made in 2015. I shot the footage in Mauritius, around the intricacies of a small, supposedly ‘empty’ plot of land in the north of the island, that was once owned by my father. The plot was actually teeming with life. Amongst the rubbish and leftover building materials insects, birds, and animals took shelter in what felt like a small respite of space in the midst of the concrete small-scale tourist developments built in the area. It was whilst taking a break from filming that I made my first visit to Curepipe Botanical Garden, where I came across the last known remaining tree of the hyophorbe amaricaulis palm species, which found itself framed by the botanical garden, which was established in 1870. A hundred years earlier the main botanical garden on the island, Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, had been set up by the French colonial administration. It was under the British colonial administration that the smaller garden at Curepipe was established, with the initial goal of cultivating varieties of plants that could not grow in the less temperate regions of the island. This last remaining tree of a species and the ideas of emptiness of a plot of land converged into thinking through ‘waste’ in terms of ideas of categorisation, framing, and visibility and invisibility.

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Works in 'Waste Archipelago':

Oil Spill Islands (40 x 28.4cm, 8 x C-type photographic prints)
An archipelago of eight islands as made from documentary images of recent oil spills in the world’s waters. The photographic collages have been preserved in sea salt. Chong Kwan developed the series as a response to the ecological consequences of the recent major oil spill off the coast of Mauritius in 2020, the island of her father’s birth, and the research into recent major oil spills throughout the world

(53cm x 80cm, 6 x C-type photographic prints)

Headpieces (Photo archive paper, cotton threads, wooden stands)
Chong Kwan created photographic collages which explore specific foodstuffs and their associated waste issues, as headpieces to be worn, bringing the food consumption, transportation, production, and waste of food into bodily consideration.

Plates (36 x 24cm, 5 x C-type photographic prints)
The inverted photographs of waste food as landscape and sea salt grown on plates as ambiguous islands in the archipelago, each based on an artificial island with food waste and sea salt crystals.

An Anecdoted Typography of Waste (1 x table cloth at 130 x 220 cm)
Outlines of food waste, oil spills, and culinary objects in the hues of water, sewn into a table cloth, and connected to text of anecdotes related to waste.

Waste Matters (20 x 100cm, 2 x C-type photographic prints)
Two landscapes of an island of collaged food at the top and its corresponding food waste at the bottom. Installed as vinyl photographic banners on the balcony of Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. Vinyl banners reclaimed and made into pencil cases, which were given to all teh students that participated in the project.

Herbarium (A3, 6 x card collage)
Collages made from the waste paper and card cut outs of the process of making the other works and relating to images of a Herbarium, a strategy for collecting and categorising plants, often as part of the colonial Botanical endeavour, which took them out of their relational and contextual cosmology.

'Waste Matters' and 'Waste Archipelago' developed with Sustainable Ca' Foscari and Galerie Alberta Pane, Venice

Download 'Gayle Chong Kwan. Waste Matters: Chronicles from a Food Archipelago in Venice', publication, Edition Ca' Foscari, Venice. 2021.

Watch Inauguration of Gayle Chong Kwan. Waste Matters. Ca' Foscari University, Venice.