Transcorporeal Trash Communion

"The Dan River near Eden, N.C., has been transformed into a bubbling caldron of black muck."  Guilfordian, 2014

"The Dan River near Eden, N.C., has been transformed into a bubbling caldron of black muck." Guilfordian, 2014

The world is covered in waste and death. Not all bodies are forced to engage with this reality with the same intimacy; some can make it go “away.” Nuclear waste, trash, and excrement, however, all go somewhere. Recently, and close to home, that somewhere included the bodies of residents whose water supply had been permanently toxified by the coal ash spill in Eden, NC.


As someone lucky enough to have the coal ash in the Dan River exist somewhere else besides my home, no number of news reports or statistics could serve as a facsimile for comprehending a bodily encounter with this material. For those affected by the 82,000 tons of coal ash which poured into the Dan River on February 2nd, 2014, however, the coal ash cannot be dismissed. Without this immediate experience of bodily affectation, response to the spill can include feelings of repulsion, sadness, and fear; distancing emotions that make us want to push the waste of the world further away.


I believe art should not be divorced from the materiality of the world or the corporeality of human experience. I began my work with a question: What happens when you invite coal ash in; subject it to a geologic process; hesitantly befriend it? I formulated a series of ceramics glazes from the coal ash and throughout the collecting, sieving, measuring, and mixing, I found myself imagining how much radiation, mercury, and lead I was absorbing. Bringing the ash closer to my body affected an experience of bodily terror and forced me to attend to the unknowns of the material; I experienced a kind of solidarity with those who must bear the ash as a daily bodily reality.


What I desire through this project is a communion that unsettles boundaries between art and politics, the body and the world, inside and outside, over here and over there. I use the functional form of the teabowl and the seductive transfiguration of the ash to bring waste home and facilitate a trash communion—a transcorporeal encounter with the toxic product of the burning of hundreds of millions of years of decomposed plant bodies.


I do not want these cups to stay in the gallery. I want them to live in the real world. Touch them with your hands. Drink from them. Examine them closely. Experience the terror of the porosity of bodies.


—Raina Martens 2015