Art & Sustainability: Ca’ Foscari inaugurates “Waste Matters”

What is our relationship with food and waste? Where does our waste end up? How can we reduce our impact on the environment? These are some of the questions posed by the project “Waste Matters” by London-based artist Gayle Chong Kwan.

The art installation inaugurated at Ca’ Foscari on 2 July is the “final act” of this artistic project which started two years ago. 

The facade of Palazzo Foscari on the Grand Canal will host two banners until 2 September. The upper banner shows a landscape made of various types of food that can usually be found in our homes, and it symbolises abundance and attention to the quality of food products. The lower banner is the reflection of the one above: it represents the darker side of food waste, which is caused by intensive farming and production methods that do not take seasonality into account. This is combined with oil, which is used around the world for food transportation and causes great environmental devastation when it spills. 

The making of this work of art started with the Sustainable Art Prize 2019, the third edition of a prize dedicated to sustainability in collaboration with ArtVerona, a fair of modern and contemporary art. 

The Sustainable Art Prize is one of the projects organised by Sustainable Ca' Foscari’s initiative Arte&Sostenibilità, which aims to give visibility to Ca’ Foscari’s commitment to sustainable development by showing them in innovative ways that can be appreciated by everyone.

Chong Kwan, who was hosted by Galleria Alberta Pane, won the first prize by focusing on topics such as the reuse of food waste and their transformation into art. After the pause enforced by the pandemic, “Waste Matters” started to develop in September 2020 thanks to a series of online meetings and workshops that involved about 60 students from Ca’ Foscari’s different areas of study. The topic of food waste — and waste in general — was at the centre of the project, which on the contrary treated waste as something that matters. 

The artist encouraged participants to work on practical activities, each in their own space. This enabled them to learn from artistic and creative research by adopting a critical perspective on the way they cooked, on their shopping habits and on their neighbourhood. 

Furthermore, the students were able to try their hand at documentary photography, place-mapping, food waste collection and cataloguing, recycling and creative reusing. These activities allowed them to become more aware of waste issues and prompted them to come up with solutions and efficient communication strategies to raise awareness of this topic outside the group. 

Thanks to the participation of Ca’ Foscari’s teaching staff and researchers, who used videos to analyse the core topics of the project from academic perspectives, the online meetings were also an opportunity to explore the objectives of the 2030 Agenda that are most relevant, such as number 12, “Sustainable consumption and production”. 

The ideas and thoughts that emerged from the meetings were then translated into an artistic performance held on 16 June, in which some Ca’ Foscari students walked around Venice wearing hats created by Gayle Chong Kwan and now exhibited at the Galleria Alberta Pane in the artist’s personal exhibition, Waste Archipelago (22 May - 4 September). The works of art were conceived also thanks to the ideas shared during the meetings with the students.

At the end of the project, a series of working papers was published online. They will be included in the catalogue which will be published in October. 

With regard to other projects on sustainability, in June the Precious Caps project was published as a book which illustrates the various stages of the research that, in 2017, explored the possibility of applying the principles of the "circular economy" to the management of university waste. 

Author: Francesca Favaro / Translator: Joangela Ceccon