Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trash Art

Justin Gignac packs trash from the streets of New York into plastic cubes and sells them for $50 to $100 apiece. 

“The idea of selling garbage was all born out of the debate about the importance of package design,” he said. 

That was during a summer internship at MTV. He asked himself what he could package that nobody would want. 

Gignac digs through trash late at night. “This is when the city is dirtiest,” he says. Gignac fills the approximately three inch airtight and odorless clear plastic cubes, with what he found scurrying through the streets and trash. Each cube has a centerpiece like a ticket stub, plastic cup or broken beer bottle, which is then displayed with other findings like cigarette stubs, candy wrappers and receipts. 

Each cube is numbered, signed and dated just like any other art, but then also labeled with “Garbage of New York City.” Gignac said once in a while he includes personal notes and letters that people have thrown away. Gignac said, “Every piece of trash I collect tells a story. Each piece of garbage played a roll in someone's life and therefore played a roll in the life of this city. Notes and photos just help tell that story even better.”

Sweet Briar College Art major Brook Schulze herself sometimes incorporates recycled items into her Artwork, such as beer bottle caps and painting on wood planks. Schulze said “No, trash might not be something that someone finds beautiful, but I believe it does intrigue not only the mind but also the eye.” Schulze said that as the saying goes, 
“ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” 

Back in 2002 when Justin Gignac started out with the “Garbage Art”, it took him ten hours to sell the first $10 cube, at Times square to a tourist from Ecuador who he said barely spoke English. But once it hit the web, at, it took off from there. Gignac said, “Initially I didn’t expect anybody to buy them.” 

His fans are from all over the US and around the world, with his customer feedback amazingly positive. Gignac is moving along. “I’ve sold more than 1,200 cubes to over 45 states and 25 countries,” he said. Ordering goes via the web at A piece of New York City ranges from $50 to $100.

“Some purely see the humor in it. Some appreciate the balls of the idea. Others want a memento of the city they love. Some love the commentary on consumerism. Some just want a piece of history.”

“They examine the cubes for so long, it’s as if they wait for an emotional connection. People want what reflects them even though they otherwise usually ignore trash,” Gignac said.

An artist from Brooklyn who himself sometimes incorporates junkyard scraps into his art said he was impressed with Justin's ability to market something so mundane. But “As a New York resident with ample access to street trash, I'm pretty surprised that people are willing to buy it. It doesn't seem any more or less glamorous than trash from Nebraska or Saskatoon,” Ted Stanke said.

Gignac said he noticed an interesting progression as he raised the price. “First people thought of the cubes as goof, then cool, then art.” “The price point is what changed their perspective.” 

Artist Emerence De Potesta said the affordable price of Justin's works is an attractive aspect, making his art more accessible. As a young London artist she likes the idea of bringing back home something what she calls authentic and “fresh” from New York City.

From seeing his artwork online De Potesta felt that, “At first, the artist's work seems extremely simplistic, yet intriguing. It pushes the viewer to think of trash in a different way, as something that has the potential of becoming beautiful. It also pushes forward today's popular themes of recycling, pollution, and eco-friendliness." 

 Gignac said, a customer of his, a sales manager, told him that he keeps a cube on his desk as motivation for his employees and himself. He told Gignac: “ If you can sell garbage for $50 a box they should be able to sell a satellite radio to people.”
“If an artist can sell garbage as-is,” Brooklyn artist Ted Stanke said, “He can probably sell anything.”

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