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Naming a pile of garbage may seem like an odd thing to do, but for Japanese artist Yoshinori Niwa, it's one way to make everyone aware of social and environmental issues.
The 32-year-old Niwa, whose multimedia performance and installation artworks — "social and historical interventions" — have been on display in countries such as Russia, Romania, Germany, and his native Japan, has chosen the Philippines for his next work. Titled “Selling the Right to Name a Pile of Garbage,” he is actually selling the rights to temporarily rename WACUMAN Inc. Sanitary Landfill in Novaliches.
Interested buyers may bid via text, landline, Facebook message, and through his website.
As of December 25, 2014, the highest bidding price is P4,600.
Niwa granted GMA News Online an email interview.
GMA News Online: How did you come up with this? What started it all?
Niwa: I have big interest in international relations on the garbage issue. In 2006, I've realized another project related to this issue, titled "Going to San Francisco to dispose of my garbage." In this project, I was taking house rubbish and boarding a plane to the US and crossing back and forth between Japan and the US. I tried to explore where the garbage comes from and where it goes. Because of the limited place to dispose rubbish within Japan, sometimes the Japanese government sends several containers full of garbage to foreign countries — especially to Southeast [Asian] countries, in exchange for money.
So, for this project, I was getting interested in garbage landfills in Manila, which is totally different to Japanese ones. I heard some news of Smokey Mountain and the issues of the community and the system of recycling. I'm trying to turn public attention to the landfill, which has been abandoned by people. That's why I'm using the naming business, which is a really Capitalistic way. Also, it was really hard to negotiate with the owner of the landfill, explain Naming Rights and our aim, but finally we got permission with private company WACUMAN, Inc.
GNO: Out of myriad other ways to raise awareness, why choose to auction off naming rights?
N: Because of the suggestion of our general consulting lawyer. And I had no idea how much the Naming Rights for landfills would cost. I know some actual instances in Japan, but those were not for landfills. It might be possible to call for new "names" for the landfill. But I wondered if an auction might be a more exciting process to get rights—and it's a typical Capitalistic business, which is so different from a landfill's reality. I expect some people might get angry, but through this process, we can know what's the name or what's the right.
GNO: You have had other projects in other nations in the past. What made you choose the Philippines for this particular project?
N: Because there are so many landfills, which is really interesting for me, and it's international relations.
GNO: What research and preparation went into this?
N: We researched almost all of the landfills in Metro Manila, who are the owners, what size, operation times, and what kind of garbege. Also, we visited several actual landfills to negotiate our naming rights project in their office.
GNO: What do you hope to achieve with the auction of the naming rights?
N: I hope, finally, someone renames it for certain period (one day/one month), to rethink the meaning of the name for us, for them, for the community and for society—even if it's a landfill.
GNO: On the guided tour of the waste management, will it be open only to the individual who wins the naming rights or the public as well?
N: It's open to the public, but by appointment.
GNO: What for you is the appeal of socially and historically interventionist art?
N: In the era of modern society, in which everything changes every minute, I'm really interested in relating to others, history, negotiation with strangers. I belive that reflects what I think and what society think us.
I believe artists should stop to express only their feelings.
GNO: Do you already have plans for your next project? Where will it be held and what will it be?
N: I have several projects. I have a project in Croatia and Slovenia which was communist country. Because between 2010-2013, I explored the history of Communism around the world, including Moscow, Romania, Japan. So probably next project in Eastern Europe would be more about relation between the national history of Croatia and Slovenia and the people's views.
The artist as capitalist
"Selling the Right to Name a Pile of Garbage" is part of "Terms x Agreements," an exhibit curated by local artist Merv Espina that, in turn, is part of discursive project "Holdings." It is structured like a holding company, with the curator as manager and CEO and the artists selling real goods and services.
"Holdings is one of four curatorial projects that comprise Forces at Work," said Espina in an email interview. "Supported by the UP Vargas Museum and Japan Foundation, Forces at Work runs from December 2, 2014 to January 28, 2015.
"Holdings hopes to contribute to the many discussions of art and economics in the Philippines, but in a way that will hopefully propel certain the issues and questions forward.
"What the audience can see in the Vargas Museum for the duration of the exhibition are the actual artists at work in their office and work spaces. For Niwa, there's his third floor director's office and the ground floor information kiosk for Selling the Right to Name a Pile of Garbage (Tue and Thu, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)."
Niwa and Espina met through common friends in Busan, South Korea in 2011 and have kept in touch ever since. He wanted to include more artists in the exhibit, but eventually limited the number to just two (Niwa and local artist group WAG), due to logistical constraints.
When asked about the proceeds of the sale, Espina replied that they did not want to dictate to either the landfill owner or the buyer where the money would go, preferring to focus on the act of selling the naming rights, although he did mention that WACUMAN provided the charity aspect.
"If we focused on this, then the project would have the tendency to just be a mere charity stunt," said Espina.