6018North, a sustainability-driven partner of Art Design Chicago, has been working with artist Tria Smith on a collaborative event series that they call their Trash Transformation project. Among other environmental explorations, The Trash Transformation project anticipates an exhibition planned by 6018North as part of Art Design Chicago 2024.
“This ongoing work literally cleans up our community, provides an accessible and action-oriented point of discussion to talk about sustainability, and gives people hope and joy in envisioning and creating new ways to use what you have, and work together… This work will be a key element in our exhibition that shows the huge anthropogenic toll on the environment. Not only does this work live in its transformation—but a trash survey will be in the exhibition itself.”
— 6018North Artistic Director, Tricia Van Eck.
On three Sundays during the summer of 2023, you could find Tria Smith and the 6018North team on Lake Michigan at Osterman Beach. These beach-cleaning events aimed to not only beautify the natural environment that so many people use and enjoy within Chicagoland but to elevate the trash itself. After the trash was collected by participants, Smith would sort and sanitize it before transforming it into wearable costumes for a Persephone pageant, a part of 6018North’s annual Water Music on the Beach series.
Art Design Chicago had the opportunity to participate in one of these Trash Transformation events. On Sunday, July 30th at 10:30 AM we found ourselves on Osterman Beach surrounded by volunteers and event coordinators. There was an array of equipment laid out for volunteers to use: trash pickers, gloves, trash bags and buckets, among other tools. The team explained ground rules (bring trash back within spans of 1530 minutes so that it could be effectively sorted, etc.), and we were off. We grabbed a trash picker and a bucket before heading to the beach.
Filling two full buckets of trash during the event, we found a lot of interesting things along the way (from a lone sneaker to abandoned fireworks). One of the most intriguing aspects of this event was watching artist Tria Smith sort through the trash.
Plastics, fabrics, and other recyclable/reusable materials seemed to make up most of the piles that continued to grow as participants brought back what was found on and near Osterman Beach. It was fascinating to imagine these discarded pieces of trash becoming something more.
All the work done through the Trash Transformation project culminated in a gorgeous series of performances as part of Water Music on the Beach: The Persephone Project. This event took place on Sunday, September 17, 2023.
Performers included Simon Anderson, Braeden Barnes and Michelle Meltzer, Whitney Bradshaw, Coco Elysses, Elaine Lemieux, Trevor Nicholas and the Senn Choir, Sakai Parker, Ella Schultz, and Angie Tillges.
The trash collected by participants in the Trash Transformation events was displayed at this event by artist Tria Smith in the form of wearable costumes, showing how possible it is to turn trash into treasure.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaitlin Rikala (they/them) is an art historian and creative writer. Kaitlin completed the 2023 UChicago MAPH Summer Internship with the Terra Foundation where they worked extensively on Terra’s Art Design Chicago initiative. They hold a master’s degree in art history, with an emphasis in curatorial and gender studies, from the University of Chicago.