Talking Trash
Interactive research into rekindling relationships between designers and neglected objects.
The project Talking Trash  began as a set of design probes based on my existing practice as well as readings on the ontological nature of trash and new materialist approaches to better living with objects. The project was then developed into a workshop aimed at designers. The workshop consists of three generative and object centred activities. The activities are supported by prompt cards that facilitate reflection on, and form care relationships with a group of neglected things.  The aim of forming these relationships was to speculate on the idea that a physical re-investment from designers could contribute towards eradicating trash as a phenomena. More widely the particular significance of this project is apparent as trash has become a universal burden . Below you can see a diagram of the activities in the space, they weren’t numbered at the event but for the purpose of this web page it follows the order given.
A pack of prompt cards helped participants navigate the space and facilitate discussion. I observed a high level of thoughtful discussion. I attribute this success to the individual documentation method which did not require my intervention and gave the participants a greater sense of autonomy to engage as they want. The resulting data is thoughtful and personal. I also intentionally designed these cards to fit an A3 recycled sheet without any off cuts.
Calligrammes are a method of diagrammatic writing that has been a part of my practice in the past. I have found that the act of keeping the object’s physicality at the centre of reflection gives me a particular understanding of the object which is richer than non-diagrammatic descriptions. I wanted to translate this experience to participants. This drawing session asks participants to map the object’s connections to their life and causes the participant to reflect more deeply on the object.
I asked participants how the activity made them feel about the neglected object. Participants reported that thinking about the objects stirred up feelings of nostalgia, one participant noting that they felt nostalgic for an era they had never personally experienced. Connections to  parents and to childhood were recurring themes. Some participants even noted feeling protective over the object.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
“I felt a deeper connection to these seemingly mundane items.”
Participants were also asked to draw an object they rely on. In the diagram you can see those objects mapped according to their proximity to the body.
Participants formed letters by combining objects together. This act of joining objects not only gives the participant a medium to reflect on how objects physically sit together and moves the objects from a state of unorganised transience to a more solid state where they have been repurposed. By photographing and projecting their letterform onto the wall to form the word vibrant. participants gained an understanding of the objects as functioning within a new structure that allows the objects to speak back to the participant. Vibrant is a nod to Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter - a book which has been present in my research and provides a framework for thinking about the agency of objects and removing humans from the centre of our ecologies.

When asked who holds more power participants gave a range of answers, on the diagram below they are mapped on a scale from objects as having to most power to humans having the most power.
“There are objects
made by human power that are used to maintain power imbalance amongst humans”

Sort works by getting participants to hold an object in hand, an intimate gesture, and decide where to place it on a scale of preciousness and permanence. This opens up the participant to break away from the way society tells us to see objects as useless and disposable when they fail. As a prompt alongside this activity participants were asked why objects become trash. Many speculated that objects become trash when we retract our values from them.
“I think disregarding an object lets it become trash”
Participants noted how much they cared at the beginning and end of the workshop. It is hard to make any particular claim about what this data means because the interpretation of the question is so subjective. It does however provide a sentiment of individual reflection. Some participants felt that they cared more after completing the workshop and others perhaps declined because they became aware of their true neglectfulness towards objects because of the workshop. A significant change is true for most participants meaning there was some impact left by the workshop.
The book should be an object to spend time with and care for, to do this it will function on three levels. At a base level it documents the workshops as an event. The second level is evaluation where I’m looking at the responses and commenting on how I think it fulfils the aims of the workshop, this might be pulling out themes or whether people are forming care relationships. Thirdly the book allows the reader to participate in Talking Trash, the book should enact the workshops. This looks like an activity for each section. Build as an example gives the reader an outline to follow with objects they find at home, it’s not an exact replication of the station but it gives the participant a similar experience.
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