Creative debris makes a point

Annual Arte de Descartes show taps into the debate over recycling in Taos

By Rick Romancito
Posted 8/22/19

When it started out, the annual Arte de Descartes exhibit was designed to inspire recycling, reuse and repurposing discarded materials or … garbage, if you will. But, over the years, …

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Creative debris makes a point

Annual Arte de Descartes show taps into the debate over recycling in Taos


When it started out, the annual Arte de Descartes exhibit was designed to inspire recycling, reuse and repurposing discarded materials or … garbage, if you will. But, over the years, certain things have happened to revise that purpose.

Founded and curated by Melissa Larson of Wholly Rags, a local textile recycling business, the show has actually grown and become more refined. It actually encompasses works today that are no longer within the realm of quirky “trash art” and now includes work of singular artistic vision. They make pointed comments on politics and social conventions. They are beautiful. They tell stories.

The 19th annual show opens with a reception Saturday (Aug. 24), 4-7 p.m., at the Stables Gallery of the Taos Center for the Arts, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is free and the public is invited. 

Recycling issue

This biggest and perhaps most ominous change in the show’s raison d’être is the issue of recycling. In 2018, according to the town of Taos, our recycling center “brought in $83,000 in revenues. It cost $290,000 to operate it; nearly one-quarter of that expense is the electric bill alone to operate balers and other equipment,” Taos News editor Staci Matlock wrote in a June 27 editorial. “To top it off, China, the main buyer of American recyclable plastic, is no longer taking much of it because our collected plastic loads tend to be contaminated.” Add to that, President Trump’s trade war with China this year hasn’t made things better.

All of that adds up to a boatload of problems for recycling that reaches all the way into our own backyard.

Asked if the show has lived up to its purpose to encourage recycling, Larson said, “I don’t think it really has, because we’re all falling off these days, you know? It even feels like they’re getting worse than they were when we started. It seemed like people were a lot more excited about recycling back then [when the show started].” 

In a June 27 Taos News story by Jesse Moya, town manager Rick Bellis told him, “We are now at the point where it makes no economic sense for us to operate a collection facility on our own without some financial support. From a scale of economics, a regional solution works best for solid waste.”

But, even if that were to happen, the public needs to buy into the solution in the form of simple education. Taos County Code Enforcement Officer Lorenzo Gutierrez told Moya in the same story that “the loads at the recycling center are often contaminated due to a lack of knowledge about what can be recycled and how. In addition, Gutierrez said new, friendlier and more helpful staff was needed at the center.”

So, while officials work on a practical solution to the issues surrounding recycling in Taos, artists do what they do best: They put a creative spin to it. But, in so doing, they also help to excite interest in the reuse of once-discarded materials, especially plastics, glass and textiles. People are just accustomed to throwing stuff away. Of the 60 some artists in this show, all have found ways to creatively take found objects and discards and make them into something new and interesting.

Post-consumer waste

Of them, probably the queen of repurposed art is Erin Currier, who, even though she has attained international fame, makes it a point to include work in this show. Tempo first discovered Currier in 2002 when she was working at The Bean, a local coffeehouse where she collected discarded materials and fashioned them into artworks. Now, her post-consumer waste artwork is found in galleries, museums and private collections all over the world. It is noted for the trash she carefully selects in her world travels which she then incorporates into painted images of people important to various political and social causes. 

For instance, her image of Saharawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar is included in this year’s Arte de Descartes. 

“While Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States’ independence from England, the country has since been focused on various geographical expansions of its own, most notably in the Western Sahara,” Currier writes. The painting depicts Haidar in the waiting lounge of the Lanzarote airport in Spain where, “to ensure her personal protection,” she was held for 32 days as a stateless hostage at the request of the Moroccan government.

“Long a thorn in Morocco’s side, Haidar, a single mother of two children, has campaigned for the independence of the Western Sahara for decades, enduring imprisonment, torture and revocation of citizenship,” a press description reads. “During her 32 days in the waiting lounge, Haidar engaged in a hunger strike, which finally came to an end after the United States intervened in the crisis. Here, Currier has built up the foreground of the collage, emphasizing perhaps the special precariousness of the growing numbers of stateless peoples around the world, who are thrust into the public space without nationality, documents, or rights.”

Fun show to put together

As mentioned, the quality of works submitted to Arte de Descartes XIX as greatly improved. “There’s less ‘trash’ being submitted there and more real artists are getting involved, so yeah I really think it’s a high-caliber show. I’m proud to be able to be behind something like that. They do some amazing stuff,” Larson said. “It’s really a fun show to put together.”

While it’s always good for people to see a work they like and purchase it, Larson said one of the more rewarding aspects of putting this show together is in how it sparks creativity and ingenuity. 

Larson said. “I think it really does stimulate the imagination.”

Arte de Descartes XIX will be on view through Sept. 7 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. For more information, call Larson at Wholly Rags (575) 751-9862 or the venue at (575) 758-2052.


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