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Taxonomy of trash

What makes a piece of art? When the answer is trash, does that mean anything can be art?

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, but for local artist Tim Eads, that trash is art. And for the rest of his multidisciplinary team involved with "The Taxonomy of Trash," that trash is sound, video, biology, and photography subjects.

The idea for "The Taxonomy of Trash" was proposed in October of 2011 when Eads, local artist and project technician/printer at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, was invited to join the Recycled Artists in Residency (RAIR). He called on photographer Carlos Avendaño, sound engineer Austen Brown, videographer Raul Romero and biologist Stacey Dougherty to help him with his self-described "analytical approach to garbage." Though he had worked with some people before in past projects, this was the first collaboration with others.

Eads and the team have been unfathomably thorough when it comes to the discarded items and trash they've found at Revolution Recovery, which provides recycling services for Philadelphia construction, manufacturing, commercial, and residential markets, and other locations in the Greater Philadelphia area.

"We wanted to look at objects and investigate them, not as discarded things, and dig deep to find something more," Eads said.

The objects include a smashed 5-gallon paint container and roller handle, a pink potty trainer, a smashed chocolate box, a Gatorade drink cooler, an in-tact cookbook called "Jerk from Jamaica," and other pieces both expected and unexpected. The objects that would photograph well were often chosen.

Ranging in size, cleanliness, and wholeness, each object was first categorized using their material composition as either "plastic" or "other" material, through the cladistics style of classification that groups closely-related items. Then, the "plastic" ones would be split into seven groups based on their SPI resin identification code, which is the numbers and symbols (most obviously, the number inside the triangle made of arrows) that are placed on the plastic products to identify the polymer. The "other" material would be classified as "biodegradable," or organic matter, and "non-biodegradable" material, like metal or glass.

"I'm particularly drawn to objects where you can tell what they were," Eads said.

Some of the objects were tested for sound, which Eads said was to resonate the sounds in different ways by hitting or bouncing to create a unique sound that was then distorted. At the DCCA exhibit, there's a sensor setup or gridded wall of recordings with the objects.

"You walk by the wall and activate sounds," Eads explained. "Everyone's experiences are essentially different."

A video station explaining the project also enhances the interactive experience of the exhibit.

The exhibit also houses a "Mobile Trash Lab" that was purchased and created with funding from the project's successful Kickstarter campaign. Mostly used as a photography studio/garbage bike, it is used to pick up trash and classify it on the spot.

"The Taxonomy of Trash" was able to secure more than its initial $7,500 asking donations to create the "Mobile Trash Lab," set up a website, and publish physical books and e-books about the project.

Eads hopes to continue his research and exposure in other cities. Based off of what can be found on the streets everyday and everywhere, he shouldn't have any trouble finding possible objects to work with.

"The Taxonomy of Trash" can now be seen in a special exhibit at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts through July 21.