Waste is Beautiful
In The Madding Crowd, A Second Life
Text by Paroma Mukherjee
A renewed context is often hidden in a heap of things – especially when such a gargantuan collection comprises largely unidentifiable objects from afar. Manish Paudel’s insightful and spirited work, Waste is Beautiful bases itself on the invisibility of discarded substances, which when singled out, question the very idea of disposal and obsolescence. Our smart cities don’t encourage the infrastructure and an ethics to encourage reusing and renewing. When Paudel put his mind to daily waste, he didn’t have to go far to deconstruct it, or indeed reframe the value accorded to things. Like most others, the Bagmati river in Kathmandu is lined with garbage dumps, queued valiantly along its course like faithful soldiers. Our species has an unforgiveable fondness for treating certain spaces with callousness and Paudel’s microscopic dissection of discarded waste (from the area) and its possible uses is a concerted exercise in awareness if not reconsideration. Paudel’s work also invests deeply in nostalgia or perhaps personal history. There is an underlying element of attachment to several objects he photographs, suggesting much agony on discovering their ruthless removal from our conscience. A floppy disk arrests the contemporary viewer, immediately throwing us back in time, when its use was ubiquitous and its preservation even more of a priority as they piled up on desk after desk – a relic of technological history and data retrieval. Maybe he doesn’t have the same sentiment for a crushed Coke can or a used teabag, but the objects are all too familiar and essential to be ignored – for at some point or another, everyone has owned and discarded what Paudel has found. When you live together, you leave traces in the space you inhabit, the intimacies you share, even in terms of habits that grow on the people/things you’re constantly around. Even though Paudel’s collection of objects of waste is sourced from several dumping locations in Kathmandu, there is an undeniable homogeneity in their familiarity.
Everything is bundled together and left to form a heap, and the objects’ physical interaction then becomes part of our collective identity – not only of the residue of scraps , but in the way we remember them – a favourite music CD, for instance.
In a more reflective mode, decay, addiction, adulteration and contamination starts making a recurring statement and is echoed in the damaged bouquets, syringes, carved showpieces, crushed plastic glasses and glass bulbs, disposed condoms, a braid of hair and even a rotting vegetable. Some objects are then used as points of interreferencing – a disturbing co-habitat of contrasting uses and needs that people have. Paudel’s style of photographing them as commercial products brings to light their most intricate details – a critical perspective inverting preconceived ideas about beauty. Their added-value also lies in the statement about mass production, about how Asia has become a larger consumer than Europe, though ironically the west sends its waste to this part of the world for disposal.
This series therefore also drives at the need for environmental conservation, via the personal act of curating objects. A thing is owned and discarded – and a newer version is acquired, only to be soon replaced by its successor. Can we live in a world devoid of marketable products, or the one in which ‘organic’ products are also manufactured rather than grown, and where the real value of objects runs parallel to their preserved afterlife?
From the series Waste is Beautiful