Desert Engagement: Hinder Swill Achieve Recycled Trash

“Moving recycling from the cultural periphery and installing it in the cultural hub demands taking a life-long pledge to banish the notion of ‘WASTE’ and install the concept of ‘RESOURCE’.” -Linda Weintraub

Art provides a unique platform for interaction with the public. Artists contribute in innovative ways to the well being of current and future populations, and as creative individuals can tackle difficult social issues in creative ways. With an expansive landscape and natural open spaces, the Antelope Valley (AV) ecosystem is a convergence of people and land resulting in blighted areas on the periphery of housing complexes, abandoned or private property, or in the middle of the desert where it spills over into our ecosystem. The issues of illegal dumping prevention, awareness, and eradication efforts are typically the responsibility of government agencies and public service organizations. By engaging in cross disciplinary and collaborative practices with artists the impacts of ecological issues such as illegal dumping can be broadened to increase visibility, understanding, psychology, and further public engagement.

In this framework, local artists Karyl Newman and Larissa Nickel created “Desert Engagement: Hinder Swill Achieve Recycled Trash” (DEHSART) in response to the prevalence of illegally dumped materials in the Antelope Valley. The project is an exploration of science, engineering, art, and design that informs transdisciplinary action for tackling ecological issues and reveals an experimental curatorial approach with methodologies that embrace ambiguity including interventions within site specific dumping spaces to re-contextualize the discarded waste into new meanings.

The more we consume, the more we waste. Illegal dumping impacts the environment, the character of neighborhoods, and the quality of life of local residents. It causes safety hazards to the public, pollution of our ecosystem and costs tax payers millions of dollars every year to pay for clean ups and government efforts. We don’t seem aware that illegal dumping happens so close to where we live because we no longer see it—even though it happens out in the open in full view. Waste is so common that we have become desensitized to it. The more people are involved, the more word will spread. Diversifying the project with as many avenues of visibility and collaborators as possible will bring focus on this marginalized issue, and bring it back into relevancy imbuing ecological understanding of place into our larger ecosystems.


DEHSART’s public art works are intended to act as a mirror where we are faced with our actions and made to be accountable, aware, and to engage in actively reducing, reusing, recycling, and repurposing our own waste. By researching the issues of illegal dumping, designing activities and programs, creating meaningful works of public art, and cultivating social connections, collective action, and civic empowerment we can transform our landscape through small interventions of public art that will raise consciousness about the issue, tell a story of environmental resources and inspire change in our ecosystem.

Art makes a difference. Art has the ability to communicate observations about our culture to a wide array of people connecting social consciousness to a larger conversation about how we are living in the world. Artists are trained to originate new approaches, to invent creative strategies, to acquire an unconventional understanding of the material substances that manage our lives, and to engage in reframing accepted ideals through a creative lens. Transforming illegal dumping and the abundant flow of materials consumed and discarded by humans in pursuit of sustenance and enjoyment shares an affinity with the creative process itself. Combinatorial creativity — the concept that ideas are born by combining existing bits of stuff, our knowledge, our memories, our landscape, our psychological pool of inspiration and resources, and creativity is the capacity to put those together into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.

French mathematician Henri Poincaré described how he arrived at the discovery of a class of Fuchsian functions: “Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination.” (

According to Linda Weintraub, the word ‘cure’ is embedded in the word ‘curate’. This linguistic root has two meanings, ‘Curing’ is defined as ‘restoring’, ‘vitalizing’, ‘assisting’, and ‘healing’. ‘Curing’ is also defined as preserving—particularly the viewer’s art experience. This means providing the circumstances to intensify the viewer’s interaction with a work of art to such a degree that the experience lingers long after that viewer has moved on. This experience ‘cures’ as it matures into a permanent impression, influence, or insight. That is when it ‘cures’ by uplifting the spirit, expanding consciousness, heightening empathy, intensifying concerns. The DEHSART project reflects the issue of TRASHED desert ecology, and through art curates a new sensibility of environmental activism to instill pride in keeping the Antelope Valley a creative and responsible ecosystem.