"To Elias, Love Auntie Nat and Uncle Mel"
medium: trash can, mailing envelope, greeting card, Valentine's Day flotsam
Brown University's Sciences Library used to be the tallest point in Rhode Island until it was surpassed by a landfill. I overheard a tour guide telling this to prospective students so it must be true. I wouldn't have believed this bit of trivia until this year, when 200 people started dumping their garbage ten feet away from my bed.
I should explain. There are three trash rooms in my 600-person dorm---one of which is across the hall from my room. When you hear a door open and shut every time someone empties a wastebasket, you start to see garbage in a different light. Trash is something we all make but try not to think about, preferring instead to stash it away in little containers until an unseen person comes at dawn and carts it off.
"How is it possible," I started to think, "that we could make so much waste?" There's smelly waste and neatly bundled waste and waste that should be recycled and waste that couldn't even begin to fit in a trashcan. Then there's a whole other kind of waste: the kind that's good for the taking.
The garbage is something of a gray area when it comes to ownership and possession. If it's headed for a landfill, does it belong to the previous owner or no one or everyone? What if it's located in an ambiguously public space---say, a communal room of a building with limited access? And what if it's mail? From childhood we've been taught to revere privacy; opening someone else's mail is akin to walking through a stranger's front door.
Below you will find a package in the trash. It is addressed to Elias Jaffa and I doubt that is you. Feel free to take a peek. Don't worry, he's probably not around. Pay attention to your reactions as you snoop through the trash. There's pleasure in doing something improper, isn't there? Perhaps it's the thrill of 'being caught' or the deviant satisfaction of taking another's belonging. And then again, perhaps you have no reaction or feel no sense of impropriety, in which case I have to ask a question: would you feel differently if Elias Jaffa were watching?
In this piece, I aim to challenge the viewer's assumptions about ownership, privacy, and pleasure. By choosing a title and attaching my name, Elias' care package is now my care package. Maybe I'll write Auntie Nat and Uncle Mel a thank you card.