Fergus, my 11 year old son, had a homework assignment to create an array, which he actually interpreted to mean a taxonomy. He choose to create an array of examples of construction garbage, which are easy enough to find around our house these days.
I saw the objects glued in a grid to a sheet of paper the next morning. There is a poetry inherent in taxonomies, which function as examples of variations on a theme. I1m being a bit stingy here as I don’t know if I can convey the effect his taxonomy seemed to have- a bit of electrical wire wrapped tightly in shiny black tape, a fragment of old lathing, the blank circle knocked out from a metal electrical box, etc. – arranged in a grid. I had the sense that he tried to make his examples as varied as possible. He wrote out in large letters at the bottom: Construction Garbage.
Although I’ve been interested for many years in taxonomies of colored objects, with this project, which has required writing as well as collecting and setting the stuff up for display, I find myself reflecting much more on what it is that interests me.
Since I have the sense that a taxonomy of yellow objects can have the effect of pointing at the pure idea of yellow- just as Fergus had the effect of pointing at the pure idea of construction garbage- it occurs to me that there are particular ways in which I choose the objects to maximize the effect I want. It occurred to me as I was picking up something yellow- a fading,
scummed up Styrofoam egg carton- on a sidewalk near our house in Greenpoint, that I have always been attracted to litter. I could probably write a book about my attraction to litter. For now, I will only mention two things in connection with this.
One is that I am a collagist in the Schwitters school and have always been sensitive to the evocativeness found objects carry.
The other is that it seems significant to me to consider the human side of my interest in another way- very little in my collection will be anything other than something manufactured, used, and discarded by human beings. Yellow (and every other color) has been distilled by human beings and pushed in every way to limits that probably exist without human intervention, but not in anything like the concentrations you can find them in discarded litter along any street in Williamsburg. Advertising, for example, is in a way linked closely to the fact that we have this sense of the pure idea of this or that or the other. Colors used on packages are designed to elicit this kind of response.
As I mentioned in describing Fergus array, the fact that the items chosen are different, that you emphasize the differentnesses
in creating the collection- well, its also a natural thing that putting a bunch of things together that share a characteristic will emphasize their differences. But, I don’t keep picking up the same examples of yellow things (M&M packages, fragments of plastic caution tape, Vitamin Water bottles/labels) as redundancy isn’t helpful. I love the things best that seem to show off their uniqueness most- and there is also a way in which abstraction plays an important role- a circle, for example, has its own meaning apart from the history of an object that carries this image, such as in the paper cd sleeve with a transparent circular center that I picked up near Chase Bank on Grand St. In fact, the photos may reveal as occurs to me now as I write, a subset of yellow objects that include the image of a circle as a prominent feature).
So, I find myself interested in the decisions I make which affect the effectiveness of the taxonomy. I originally chose to collect yellow things, knowing that I wouldn’t pick up messy organic stuff, or gloves of any sort, that I would pick up items that could be hung on a wall for display relatively easily, etc. Objects within a relatively narrow size range form a group more readily. (Including a school bus wouldn’t be helpful unless all or most of the objects were of a similar size to that). And you could define taxonomies that would presumably be less attractive and effective at conveying the variations on a theme feeling. (For example, I1m not at all interested in the possibility of a taxonomy of discarded vitamin water bottles, which simply wouldn’t show enough variation to become a world. The definition of the taxonomy has to be open enough. It strikes me that this is probably not literally true, and there is no clear line that excludes any taxonomy you could define- I have personal reasons for being attracted to some ideas over others).
And the rules don’t need to be binding- except the one.
Yesterday I saw something bright yellow on a sidewalk near a fence in the distance, which turned out to be sunlight finding its way through a chink in the bottom of the fence in the evening and laying over a small triangle of concrete.
Next month: The Yellow/ Brown Problem and a possible change of strategy, or at least a problem discovered that requires a solution.
Process: I will collect yellow things which will be mostly litter and other refuse of our urban environment, on walks. I will collect them as I go about the normal business of my life.”