Mac Premo’s ‘Dumpster Project’: A Memorial to Human Life
A little over a year ago, Mac Premo found himself with a problem. He needed to move his studio from Boerum Hill, where he had spent the last several years, to a new but smaller location at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. As an artist whose stock-in-trade was working with found materials, Mac had accumulated a fair amount of cultural debris, as it were. The move meant that a purge would be necessary. “This is sort of indicative of my problem as a human, or my greatest attribute as a human, I’m not sure which,” says Premo. “My solution was to make an art project.”
The Dumpster Project became Mac’s answer to this newfound limitation on space. In a great irony, what began as an effort to rid his studio of materials, has resulted in the creation of an object that weighs five tons. Seeing that one way or another a lot of stuff was going to end up in a dumpster, Mac began conceiving a kind of last hurrah for his collection of knickknacks and mementos. “The objects that I collect and keep, I’ve kept, ostensibly as collage materials, so this is it, feet to the fire, I’m either going to use this stuff as collage materials or I’m not,” explains Premo.
The dumpster idea started as a month-long project that would act as a kind of final resting place for the materials that wouldn’t fit in Mac’s new space. Now, having recently returned from a cameo appearance at the PULSE Contemporary Art Fair in Miami, the dumpster has averted destruction, and has found a home (at least through mid-March) in the lot next door to Mac’s studio. The dumpster is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 5 pm, and by appointment. Premo clarified in a recent blog post that, “since my studio is like 47 feet away, that 'by appointment' bit really 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.' That's what 'by appointment' means.”
Before entering the strange logistical world that is harboring a dumpster in New York City, Mac set about documenting each of the objects, many of which he had saved for years. This effort has proved one of the most fruitful elements of the project in that it became the basis for the daily blog (www.thedumpsterproject.com) and the exhibition mobile app created by the Frank Collective (which purchased the empty dumpster at the start of the project), which allow Mac to record and share his relationship to each of the objects. The posts are too numerous and too varied to recount here, but are a fascinating insight into a man’s existence as told by the objects he has decided to keep. Explaining the meaning of a stack of laminate samples, Premo writes, “I would pick these up when I went to Home Depot for various jobs. I'd only take a few at a time ‘cause I felt guilty about taking them for collage art stuffs instead of what God intended them to be used for: determining which faux-wood makes the best pizzeria countertop.”
A visit to the dumpster is less a look at one person’s life than it is an homage to our collective childhood. We find that the objects that have entered Premo’s life are very much those of our own. Of course the stories and memories are different, but there is a bond shared between each of us who has felt the need to keep things as markers in our lives. Thanks to the tireless cataloguing of the objects in the dumpster, the accompanying mobile app offers visitors the opportunity to punch in a number for each object and read the thoughts that Mac has shared about them. One cannot help but feel fortunate that The Dumpster Project has evolved into what it is, a beautiful memorial to human life as told by the things we decide to hold on to.
Among the insights that Premo has had through the process of executing this idea is a graciousness for the help and support of all of the people who surround him. One finds that many of the pieces in the dumpster are associated with memories of friends, and it is clear that Mac finds a great deal of importance in personal relationships. Taking a moment to tell me how valuable the support of his wife is, Premo confides “that’s the thing I’m most lucky about.” Displayed prominently among the many objects within the dumpster, an empty bag of Tayto crisps commemorates the evening that he professed his love for his wife. It is clear that his gratitude for the contribution of everyone who helped realize The Dumpster Project is foremost in his mind. “It’s weird to call this my project,” he says. “There are so many people that are absolutely pivotal in so many ways.” From the support of his dealer, Pavel Zoubok, to David Belt, who granted him a space to work on the dumpster, to Fleetwood Fernandez Architecture, which designed the dumpster’s roof, the project was realized through the efforts of a multitude of people.
In keeping with the collective mentality that helped produce the project, its exhibition has really been treated as a public artwork. For the first time Premo has had a chance to watch his audience experience his work as it has been installed not just in Miami, but also as part of the Dumbo Arts Festival in New York. “I didn’t expect to be as humbled as I was by watching people,” Premo remarked. “I made this big box that’s about me, that’s a taxonomy of my existence, and I don’t think I’ve ever been less relevant to a project.”
For the moment, it is unclear where the dumpster is headed when its residency at The Invisible Dog Art Center comes to a close in March. Having journeyed with this project through the many moves it has made in its short life, Mac Premo is not worried about that. Today the dumpster stands more or less as a finished project, with only some weatherproofing and some blogging still to be done. What began as an effort to throw things away, turned into a way of celebrating a life in objects. Wherever it finds its next home, curious audiences will be rewarded by the memories that are invoked by The Dumpster Project.
All photos courtesy of the Pavel Zoubok Gallery.
Eric Russ is Highbrow Magazine’s art critic. He attended New York University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in ‘The Sense of Self,’ an interdisciplinary investigation of human identity. He holds a Master’s Degree in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.