One of the defining features of industrialized societies is their astounding production and accumulation of material things (watch an episode of the disturbing “reality” series Hoarders for shocking pop-culture evidence). The flip side of that issue is, however, rampant disposal. Landfill sites are bursting with all the stuff we drag to the curb.
“Why do we throw out so much, and what becomes of the things we get rid of?” That’s the question guiding research by OCAD University student Jp King who, on 1 April 2015, was named one of the 25 finalists in phase 1 of the annual Storytellers competition organized by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Navigating the mess
King is completing the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design program at OCAD U. A postdisciplinary artist, scholar and publisher (he operates the experimental publishing lab Paper Pusher), King admits, “I struggle with the tendency to hoard, and my practice-based research is akin to making a map to help me navigate the mess. I see contemporary culture as defined by excess and disorientation, and I have turned towards a type of archival thinking – informed by poetic logic – to understand the vast scale of global production, consumption and disposal.”
Part of King’s research took place during a “discursive” three-week road trip down the eastern seaboard of the United States to Washington, DC, and then back through the interior to Toronto. Along the way, King visited flea markets, recycling facilities, junk shops, museums and other material-culture repositories, documenting – through photos and videos – the “excess and decadence of contemporary America, the problem of garbage and the accumulated detritus that characterizes a society in decay.” In October 2014, King expanded his investigations to Shanghai, which enabled him to compare the problem of amassing and disposal in China and to collaborate with artists and scholars in that country.
For his MA thesis, supervised by Professor Michael Prokopow, King developed the Journal of Disposability and Ex-Possession. This biannual print publication – and its online supplement – is slated to launch in late summer and will be dedicated to interrogating the relationship between discarded matter and global/local culture. Meanwhile, he intends to exhibit a video (The Death of Everyday Objects) tied to his research and the journal in this year’s centennial Graduate Exhibition.
On to Ottawa
Having secured a spot in the Top 25, the next challenge for King will take place on 1 June, as part of the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. That’s when he and 24 other finalists from across the country will make live presentations of their research; out of that group, a Final Five will be chosen. The entire OCAD U community will be rooting for our Storyteller King to triumph.
In good company
In addition to being a Top 25 Storyteller, King also recently received a SSHRC scholarship. Watch this video, in which King and three of his fellow scholarship recipients discuss their research and the importance of SSHRC funding to their investigations.