Defining Trash Art at this moment, less than three years into its consecration, is a dubious exercise. After all, Ed Sanders of The Fugs first used the term “punk rock” 53 years ago to the date of this publication (March 22), which predates the release of the first Ramones album by six years and the release of Richard Hell’s and The Sex Pistols’ debuts in 1977 by seven years.
Which is to say that it’s simply not been around long enough for any one person to decide what it is or is not. But let me hazard my way into these barely charted waters despite all warnings.
Think of Trash Art as the conceptual love-child of Junk Art and Glitch Art.
Within the category of Junk Art, we find things like assemblages, found objects, readymades, décollage, and certain types of collage. Junk art rests on the demonstration that any kind of material or object — oftentimes the more mundane the better — can be used to make nearly any type of art.
The operative effect of Junk Art is defamiliarization — what Russian Formalists called ostranenie. The effect is created by presenting common things in unfamiliar ways so the viewer gains a new perspective.
This aesthetic phenomenon is to a lesser extent evoked by Glitch Art, defined as “the practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes.”
Trash Art often incorporates glitch aesthetics and found (digital) objects, but unlike either, which broadly aspire to a higher-art status, Trash Art revels in deliberately low-effort execution. (Hence the earlier allusion to punk.) In its earliest days, Trash Artist ROBNESS would joke, “if you don’t make it in under 5 minutes, it’s not a Trash GIF.”
Where does Trash Art come from?
In 2020, digital artist ROBNESS minted a glitched image of a rolling garbage can, the original of which he’d lifted from Home Depot’s website. Despite being glitched and arguably a unique piece of art, the piece 64-Gallon Toter was taken down by SuperRare, and ROBNESS was suspended for copyright infringement.
After his suspension, many artists began minting their own trash artworks and ROBNESS himself christened the genre, helpfully taken from the inaugural work. (Had he chosen a different image, we may be writing here about Ceiling Fan Art or Power Drill Art.)
The opposition from platforms like SuperRare and KnownOrigin were exactly the headwinds necessary to galvanize a movement, which found its homes on more open platforms like Rarible and those of the Tezos blockchain, such as Hic Et Nunc (RIP) and Objkt.
Eric Paul Rhodes is both one of Trash Art’s earliest practitioners and its most eloquent and knowledgeable historian. His two-part essay on the origins and history of trash art is essential reading for those looking to understand Trash Art.
His essay “The Origins of Trash Art” draws a direct line from Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain to the current Trash Art movement, which brings to mind another way to think about the birth of Trash Art.
In 2020, when the movement was named and, to some vague extent formalized, digital art still seemed to be in the midst of a losing battle to be considered fine art. Mammoth sales and recognition from art world institutions were still distant dreams. Today’s top digital creators, for whom galleries and museums would now drop everything to work with, were still art world pariahs.
With all of this technical skill and thoughtfulness being snubbed, Trash Art arose like a middle finger from the mists of the burgeoning crypto art movement to say, “Hey asshole! Don’t think that’s art? Check this shit out!” Trash Art is the gleefully defiant counterpoint to digital art that aspires to fine art, like a tomboy who prefers skinned knees to rouged cheeks.
“I think it’s important to note that definition is not what Trash Art is seeking for itself. Instead, it plants a flag in the middle of the argument between ‘what is’ or ‘what isn’t?’ art and states clearly, ‘You do not define Art anymore’”
— Eric P. Rhodes (@ericprhodes)
A Woefully Incomplete List of Trash Artists
Discussions of artistic genres can really only go so far until we just need to stop and look. What follows is a Woefully Incomplete List of Trash Artists that we hope you enjoy. Or don’t. They don’t care.