Corporate America’s often blind and absurd attempts at environmental stewardship, recently demonstrated in the Gulf of Mexico with BP’s deployment of toxic chemical dispersants confounding an already toxic accident, reveal the addictive power of profits over preservation. In San Francisco and cities elsewhere, AT&T blankets neighborhoods with their annual phone directory reprinting. Haphazardly strewn across entryways, wrapped in bright orange plastic bags to prevent damage from the elements, these telephone books are delivered, unsolicited, in a system that requires recipients – even those households who are not customers of AT&T – to actively opt out when delivery is undesired. This heavy-handed dispersal of commercial waste, an antiquated tradition of distributing information, damages local environments as it impacts urban trash collection and unnecessarily increases energy expended in the recycling process. Furthermore, they seem archaic in the digital age, as e-readers ring a death knell for print publishing, and the new norm for finding a phone number becomes a query on a search engine. However, as long as these wasteful objects serve to increase corporate bottom lines, and governments fail to impede their mass-production, they will persist as a careless maneuver — uncalled-for objects — that benefit few at the expense of all.
The telephone books used in these compositions were collected in San Francisco in January 2012, in the Alamo Square neighborhood. Approximately 100 unclaimed books were collected in the 9 square-blocks surrounding the artist’s studio, five days after they were distributed. The books were boiled down to a pulp, mimicking natural decomposition processes, homogenized with silkscreen ink common to printmaking practices, and applied in foliated strips with acrylic binders. As they dry the compositions take on a tuffaceous, stone-like texture, similar to the end products of geological metamorphosis.
* In a February 2012 City of Indianapolis school recycling drive, a total of 57 tons of telephone books were collected, while the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 34.1% of all recyclable material is actually gathered in the United States. (source: Indiana Recycling Coalition, February 13, 2012; epa.gov)