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One Man's Discarded Trinkets Become Art—in a Dumpster

Downsizing his studio, a collage artist turns discarded belongings into a public art exhibition.

When Brooklyn-based collage artist Mac Premo was preparing to move from his longtime studio to a much smaller one, he knew he had to get rid of hundreds of items from his past. But instead of simply tossing everything in the trash, he decided to catalog each item and the memories associated with them.


The result was The Dumpster Project, a public art installation inside a 30-foot-long dumpster. He took each discarded item, photographed it, then placed it inside of the dumpster to create a giant collage filled with remnants of his life. The objects often tell a story of a specific place and time, with an emphasis on the friends and family that made the memory important. About 500 of the objects will be recorded along with a description on the project’s blog, highlighting items from moments that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but collectively make up an entire existence.

“I think that we define ourselves through the things that we collect and the things that we keep,” Premo says in a video about the project. “I think we imbue meaning into objects and I think subsequently those objects become a record of who you are.”

Premo’s personal record of items spanning a couple of decades includes his wife’s favorite pajama pants, a card for a free Whopper with no expiration date, a friend’s extracted wisdom teeth, and a ticket stub from a Yankees-Cubs game that was scheduled for Sept. 11, 2001 and never happened.

The dumpster recently traveled from New York to Miami and back and is currently on display through May 7 in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Visitors can step into a visual representation of Premo’s life and look up longer descriptions of each object through a mobile application on their smartphones. The hours are loose—Premo told High Brow Magazine that "by appointment" means "drop me an email and I'll come downstairs, and if you bring coffee, I'll open it up. I like half and half, no sugar. Or better yet, just bring beer.'”

“I’ve always kept this stuff with the idea that I would make art out of it someday,” Premo says. “Part of the reason I’m fascinated by collage is you take an object off the mantle and into discourse, into discussion. I do think that that’s valuable… Also, though, I do really have to get rid of all this shit. But I refuse to simply throw it away.”

Make a tax-deductible donation to Premo’s project.

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