The world is artist’s canvass
August 18, 2002
Picture it: You’re strolling through some pristine outdoorsy area – chirping birds, lush greenery, maybe a deer even bounding off in the distance. You stop to rest on a rock and there, on the forest floor, you see it – an empty can of Coors Light tossed in the underbrush.
You turn to the person you are with and say, “Who the hell would leave trash in a place like this?”
“Some asshole,” comes the inevitable answer.
And that’s that – one ruined wilderness experience.
Or is it?
I, too, have often wondered who leaves trash in otherwise pristine areas. I mean, you don’t personally know anyone who would do such a thing, right? Nor do you know anyone who knows anyone. Yet somebody is out there, breaking Colt .45 bottles alongside babbling brooks, leaving cigarette packs by the trail and just generally cluttering up the outdoors.
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Would you be surprised to learn that the “people” who do this is actually one person?
Enter artist William P. Carmichael. William claims to be responsible for 95 percent of all the litter found in natural settings, except that he doesn’t consider it litter. I met William recently at a place where people like William hang out and conducted the following interview.
IRRELATIVITY: I guess I’ll get right to the point – why do you throw shit in the woods?
WILLIAM CARMICHAEL: I’m interested in the clash of the two opposing elements. Take a giant redwood tree, for instance. You see one of those and you are just stunned. It is just so overwhelming that all you can do is crane your neck, take a picture of someone trying to hug it and then head off to buy some postcards. But if you interject the element of, say, a dirty Molson Golden 12-pack carton, then the viewer has a context in which to view this thing of beauty.
IRR: So, you believe that the ugliness you’ve strewn about makes the outdoors more beautiful?
WC: Well, first of all I don’t think that I’m leaving ugliness around. I think a wadded up Wendy’s hamburger wrapper is as beautiful as a mountain waterfall. I just think people aren’t used to seeing them together. I’m trying to change that with my art.
IRR: You’ve claimed that 95 percent of all the trash I see in the woods is your “work.” How is this possible?
WC: Odds are that the rubbish you see on your camping trip, if not placed by me personally, was positioned by one of the many carefully supervised interns I have located across the country. I assure you, none of it is by accident.
IRR: At least in the 95 percent that is yours, right? Who does the other 5 percent?
WC: Copycats and wannabes. Artists who have no ideas of their own.
IRR: The art critics have names for you like “Litternardo da Vinci” and “Trashcasso.” Do you feel they are not taking your work seriously?
WC: I don’t do what I do to please the critics. I just follow my inner guidance. When my Muse says, “That pristine pile of driftwood needs a milk carton in it,” who has time to think about how the critics will respond? That being said, my favorite is “Vincent Van Garbage.”
IRR: What about all the trash along the roadside? Is that yours, too?
WC: No, my calling is limited to natural settings. What you see along the highways of America is the work of my good friend and colleague Narcissus Murdock. Isn’t his stuff great? I really love what he does with single shoes. Very provocative.
IRR: What can we expect in the future from William Carmichael?
WC: Lately I can feel myself moving more and more in the direction of Styrofoam. Something about the fact that it takes forever to decompose is really exciting to me. I mean, to think that I could do a piece with some Styro fast-food containers in a mossy forest and it would still be there for my great-grandkids to enjoy, that’s pretty cool. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
IRR: Good luck.
WC: Thanks. Hey, could I have that beer bottle when you’re done with it?
(Next time: Who’s that jerk that always talks during movies? Irrelativity interviews performance artist Elmore Jansky.)