Lost and Found: Tim Gadreau Excerpt from CycleLogical Art
1992 University of New Hampshire BFA photography.
2002 Maine College of Art MFA
LOST! FOUND! When these words appear on homemade posters they convey the powerful appeal of a personal entreaty. Xeroxed on cheap paper in black and white, they often out-compete the slick, calculated manipulations of corporate advertisements. Lost posters proclaim that someone is in distress and that this distressed someone is a neighbor, not a distant celebrity or an anonymous model. The local nature of this communication impels people to wonder, Can I help? Have I seen the missing item? Should I take the contact information? In a similar manner, found posters announce that a neighbor has taken the trouble to return a found item to its rightful owner. Passers-by don’t pass by. They pause to ask, Could I be the owner of this lost article?
Tim Gaudreau capitalizes on the power of such homey communications to stir Day of Judgment reckonings. Viewers of his art works examine their consciences to ascertain if they are trash-retaining saints or trash-disposing sinners. Gaudreau is devoted to the reform of thoughtless and irresponsible litterers. His method is both subtle and subversive. First he creates images that retain the appearance of lost and found fliers; viewers expect to see appeals about personal items of value like a pet, a wallet, keys, or a piece of jewelry. Gaudreau surprises them by altering the content; the posters he makes feature a dented soda can, a fast food wrapper, a crushed pizza box, or a worn sneaker.
The text that accompanies each item of trash on the poster discloses the earnest nature of Gaudreau’s appeal. These messages declare that environmental reform depends upon rejecting the very notion of trash. Simply by taking the trouble to create posters announcing the discovery of discarded items, Gaudreau implies that they still have worth. The text he adds reinforces this message by revealing the perspective of an alien who analyzes the item without knowing its intended function in our culture and without awareness of the concept of trash. Gaudreau extends the logic of this alien by inventing a recycling and reuse scenario for the discarded item. This train of though leads to the conclusion that the previous owner would want to reclaim it.
The FOUND! poster of the crushed pizza box provides a physical description and then proposes its use by stating, "May have held important papers".
An Aquafina water bottle that was found “May be a children’s toy”.
The soda can that someone tossed “Might be re-used as an auto part.”
The Panda Express Gourmet Chinese Food container notes, “Well worn, may be native fetish item.”
Plastic strapping for a six pack proposes, “Possibly jewelry fashioned from local resources.”
Gaudreau then offers his telephone number and invites the owners to contact him to retrieve their misplaced possessions.
Such altered FOUND! posters confront viewers with two arenas of environmental offense. First, they provide evidence that someone classified an object as garbage instead of seeking alternative uses. Second, they dumped the object without considering the consequences of littering.
Gaudreau summons multiple strategies to awaken the conscience of those who violate trash management ethics. First, he positions litter in a FOUND! poster, a context reserved for desirable items. Then he escalates the value of each discard by treating it with the meticulous craftsmanship of fine photographic portrait, not a casual snap shot. Next he carefully gives each littered item a central position in his composition. Trash is photographed in the setting where it was found, surrounded by grass or sidewalk that functions like a stage set. The discarded object is thereby presented as a clue in a suspense mystery that tells the sordid tale of a careless discard. Because the litterer is missing from the scene of the crime, every viewer a potentially guilty of the misdeed.
The LOST! posters introduce a major new criteria for each viewer’s personal environmental score card. They present evidence that our careless handling of waste is causing culture to loose the things we cherish.
A photograph of a back-hoe digging into the earth is accompanied by the following caption, “LOST! Wildlife habitat, water purification, recreation. Size: 50+acres. Value: priceless.”
The caption beneath a photograph of a cloudy sky reads, “LOST! Clean air – replaced by smog. Last breathed here in 1793 (arguably 1492). Age: infinite.”
A river image asserts, “LOST! Potable Water, Salmon habitat. Length: 410 miles. Age: 11,500+ years.”
In this manner, the personal indiscretions documented on the LOST! fliers are linked to the unsafe and unpleasant environmental circumstances documented in the FOUND! posters. Each littered scrap becomes a contributor to broad-scale environmental abuses.
The idea for this series originated when Gaudreau was given an opportunity to create a work of art at a location that was designated as a public preserve. After conducting an aesthetic exploration of the site, his attention was captured by the litter strewn around his feet, not its distant vistas. Gaudreau explains, “The amount of trash was so significant, I had to respond. First, I did a performance piece in which I picked up trash for eight hours. I documented the process and brought all the trash to the studio. I was pleased because I cleaned up part of the site. Then it occurred to me that by cleaning up the site I removed people’s responsibility and guilt. I led them to believe that someone would come along and clean up for them. I had to find a way to rework the problem, to show that our relationship to trash is a false cultural construct. In the natural world, everything has value and is re-used. It is only humanity that has forgotten this fundamental principle of nature.” He concluded that someone who believes that everything has value would feel obliged to return to their rightful owner the pizza box found along a roadside and the cigarette butt discovered under a tree. That spawned the idea of the FOUND! posters.
Gaudreau offers his work for display on any telephone pole and community bulletin board. His evangelical mission seems to exceed his personal quest for fame, “As Eco-artists, our first responsibly is to educate; I believe that when people have the knowledge, they will choose to do the right thing. Through activist public art, we can affect local, state and federal legislation, save locally endangered plant and animal species, preserve important habitats and ecosystems, remediate polluted sites, change our community’s impact on the waste stream and so many other possibilities. Never underestimate the power of small committed groups to institute change through example and action. … E-mail www.wake-up.ws for your own set of flyers to pin up in your town or office. Pass the idea on.”