The exhibition featured artworks that were made from discarded items and invited viewers to think of how waste drives human activity.
Humans are now more conscious of their waste production as they progress to the anthropocene age where their actions can significantly impact the Earth’s climate and ecosystems, Anania said.
“I’m sure you’ve seen on social media, invitations to go low or no waste and live the kind of lifestyle that implies you as an individual, are the sole agent for stopping waste streams,” Anania said. “But it’s completely untrue. The vast majority of pollution that’s produced on the planet is by corporations.”
The latest waste characterization study of Nebraska in 2009 showed paper fibers were the largest waste category (41.15%), followed by plastics (19.13%) and food (16.64%).
Currently, Nebraska doesn’t plan to conduct an updated waste characterization study across the entire state, according to Amanda Woita, a public information officer for the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.
Anania offered a different approach to reducing waste. She said the first step is to repurpose items in a way that are central to our lives and likely to return in another form of use. For example, food scraps can be repurposed as compost material.
Anania’s exhibition at Sheldon is part of a bigger project to create a database of on-campus art works related to ecological collapses. She is currently writing a grant to make the database available for the University of Nebraska system to use for teaching. Her research community works with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities to present artworks that are easily searchable for anyone.
Anania worked at museums before becoming a professor, and one of the components she trained others to do was object-based teaching.
“By looking at an art, it’s possible for whatever discipline you’re attached to, to generate questions about a topic,” Anania said. “We’re focusing on the things (art pieces) that are on campus so that professors can take students to see and build projects around it.”
Anania chose artworks that depict scenes in the Midwest and offer solutions for industrial and agriculture pollution.
“It’s a wonderful chance for people in different sectors to reflect on, structurally, the effects of what they do,” Anania said. “But it’s also a beautiful and promising reflection of what Nebraska has to offer in terms of creativity, innovation, and these cultural collections that are lying at our fingertips.”
“The Nature of Waste: Material Pathways, Discarded Worlds” is available for viewing at the Sheldon Museum of Art until Dec. 23, 2021.
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