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  • Karen Crews Hendon

Foreward: Reclaimed Landscapes, The Art of Jerod Charzewski

Updated: May 27, 2020

The idea of walking in beauty, or, the beauty way, is a traditional insight of many cultures around the globe. No matter the language, the expression references acting in harmony with the environment and all its relations. When referencing our placement among other living creatures, human beings are not pictured at the apex of a pyramid, but instead are shown in the center of a circle to represent their position as a stewardship for all life. In practice, the beauty way is simple: leave the environment in better condition than how it was found. While some may find this perspective complicated or idealistic in a modern world, others are championing the ways of sustainable living and find the act of reducing their carbon footprint to be a process of respect, reciprocation, compassion, and liberation. 

Now more than ever, moral concern is rising about our natural resources and the long-term impacts of industrial processes, materials, and byproducts. Source materials are becoming public knowledge and consumers are faced with complex decisions regarding the types of products they choose for their daily needs. Ideas of worth and importance are changing and the qualities of our belongings are scrutinized in conjunction with their possible consequences. Questions such as—Is this worth it? Who created this? How was it made? What is the lifespan? —are more prevalent. We are relearning and reconsidering how to place authenticity and value on consumer goods, especially if we become aware that they were made at the detriment of a community or the environment. With Fair Trade movements and certifications established well over fifty years ago, we are still confronted with trade injustices and not enough strong environmental policies. Now, twelve years since the 2006 climate documentary An Inconvenient Truth was co-created by former presidential candidate Al Gore and his team, much of the evidence discussed in the documentary regarding global degradation continues to be supported by scientific research. While the film brought social awareness and education to the public about the subject, many of the same issues continue to be subjects of heated debate during a time of political polarization.

As American news media expose more information related to frustrating toxic problems, hazardous landfills, frequent chemical spills, pipeline leaks, and the abundance of waste that has accumulated for decades on land and sea, many people recognize the need for major reform. Companies that boast their high consumption patterns and growing investment rates have rarely been the same ones that measure their own waste generation management. Our inventive pursuits for convenience have led not only to incredible positive discoveries but also to ones of considerable destruction. While it has been documented that wealthier economies tend to produce more waste and have the resources to reverse this behavior, it could be considered ironic that those with less are conserving more. Aside from the statistics that economists offer, social influences and marketing promos can lead to some of the quickest actions.

In growing numbers, it is becoming popular to be a mindful or “do-good” consumer. Supporting ethically conscious companies that both disclose the lifecycle of their products and have a reciprocal maker-to-consumer relationship allows buyers to feel actively engaged in making our world a better place. Whether one converts to trends such as the tiny house movement or becomes a new minimalist (thanks to Matt D’Avella, Joshua Fields Millburn, and Ryan Nicodemus’s 2015 film collaboration Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things), individuals are learning how to maximize multiple needs with as little as possible to lighten their load, seek new forms of happiness, and tend to the damage done to our environment and communities. Discussions on how individuals can be consumer-conscious and implement eco-friendly lifestyles are leading to major social networks, eco-webs, and community cooperatives inspired by the co-creation of an upcycled future. 

While learning about the exhibition project Reclaimed Landscapes at the Begovich Gallery, curators Jennifer Minasian and Danielle Clark gathered appalling statistics about social-cultural waste. Their aim was to demonstrate how visual art can give these frightful numbers the strongest visibility and impact on viewers. Minasian and Clark, both passionate and mindful advocates, decided to uncover alternate views of these inconvenient truths with installation artist Jarod Charzewski. Their research and contributions led to much community awareness, detailing how much fabric weaves in and out of our landfills from the surplus of rejected clothing as a result of fast fashion. Introducing Jarod’s work to California State University, Fullerton, was as ambitious as it looks. We quickly learned how the epic proportions of the artwork parallel the allegories of the artist’s concepts. Through the mounds of clothing, bike tires, and electronic wires, Jarod demonstrates how these discarded objects created for fashion, transportation, and communication accompany our lives and, at times, define us, but ultimately outlive us in destructive ways. Being present near his work, viewers encountered the overwhelming energy of hyper-accumulation. They experienced how the man-made colors, layers, and textures meld, bulge, and push against one another, mimicking the layers and movement of our Earth. While we may already be aware that our landfills are a problem, the artist investigates specifically what kind of objects contribute to the mass and how we can be empowered to change it. As our students meticulously folded and added clothing layer by layer, they realized firsthand how one person can make a difference and be part of the detriment or part of the solution. We can indeed be stewards of the Earth, of our home, as we share it with all forms of life.

The Reclaimed Landscapes project also illuminated what a complex process it is to reuse or breakdown unnatural materials. In Orange County, or anywhere in California, disposing of the type of rubber used for bike tires—a subject rarely on our radar—put us to the test. Learning that tire recycling plants will only take nine tires at a time (and will charge per tire) unless you have a hauler’s bond (worth $10,000.00) presented a challenge. With 200 pounds of bike tires to recycle at the culmination of this exhibition, this experience gave us a new respect for haulers 1-800 GOT JUNK and the city of Fontana, where a precision tire-crumb facility, Rubber Recovery, grinds up and recycles tire rubber for playground surfacing, rubber molding, synthetic turf, and other rubber goods. 

Perhaps a good lesson for all who visited this exhibition and those who will continue to read about it in this 100-percent recyclable book, printed with soy-based ink, is that we will never look at clothes, bicycles, electronics, or anything in our possession as we once did. The objects we choose to live with have lives and histories of their own. Jarod Charzewski teaches us that we no longer have to continue to hide or bury our imperishable secrets—just the compostable ones! Whether it’s reducing waste by utilizing compost; initiating community gardens; replacing plastic with cloth bags or glass containers; partnering with neighborhood cleanup projects; experimenting with DIY household cleaning recipes; buying bulk instead of prepackaged goods; hosting clothing swaps; or utilizing ride-shares and alternative transportation, a few basic steps yield considerable economic, social, and environmental outcomes for a more compassionate way of living. While it’s important to continue to educate ourselves as to where our supplies come from, how they were made, and the effects of their use, it’s also as important to connect with others through community to create mutual support in these efforts. For this, we are grateful to Jarod, Jennifer, and Danielle, who together created community here at CSUF and guided us toward new definitions for the meaning and impact we need to shape a world we love.

This foreward was written by Karen Crews Hendon for the exhibition catalog to document the work of artist Jerod Charzewski and the exhibition curated in 2018 by Jennifer Minasian and Danielle Clark at the Begovich Gallery, California State University, Fullerton  

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