The Art of Salvage


“The Art of Salvage” consists of a series of postcards written, designed and installed at the USED/Goods exhibition held at the Salvation Army, Montreal (November 2004).

An essay was developed from the postcards, and included in the catalog documenting the event.

Postcard text excerpts: Scan the crammed interior of any thrift store. There’s a pink quilted bathrobe, a plated gold picture frame, a Flash Gordon VHS tape, a Bali dance CD, monogrammed luggage with a broken latch, a vinyl sofa, shot glasses from Wyoming, lampshades aged yellow, a copy of Gone with the Wind, a jumbled wall of high-heeled shoes. Mismatched, cast-off, singular objects that rarely are packaged as a set. Not available in a full-rack display of every possible size, color and style; but instead positioned as the recurrent anomaly. Use renders each object particular, rounding off its edges. These wandering commodities search for a restoration, however briefly. Salvage is salvation. The thrift store salvages errant and obsolete items, giving temporary relief from the rubbish heap. In contrast to the fluid, fast-moving and reproducible Market of Ideas, here is the Market of Fleas.

Items for salvage circulate to the local thrift store or are packed in shipping containers bound for other continents. The economy of thrift is perhaps most bustling in third-world countries. Clothing sent to Africa unpacks in bazaars 25-acres in size in Uganda, where nearly 80 percent of clothing purchased is second-hand. Beyond clothing, electronic and communication devices are one of the fastest-growing commodities for recycling and reuse. A vast majority of electronics discarded in the United States are shipped overseas where they are reused or scrapped and dismantled, often causing great risks to environment and health. From wires to chips to miniscule specks of gold, electronics are stripped for any valuable remainders. Salvaged chips are so pervasive that markets in Southeast Asia have been flooded with every form of talking toy imaginable. Stuffed animals and dolls yap with endless suggestions about the dubious wonders of electronic salvage.

Our data and media are perpetually faced with the possibility of disaster. Photographs are drenched by river floods and slow leaks; books are contaminated with mites and mold; data decays and is attacked by viruses. The only solution is salvage. The slow recovery of preservation and reconstruction. Photographs are air-dried and frozen; books sent to vacuum chambers and doused with fungicides; data recast in yet another format. But for all this, media are already bent toward decay and obsolescence. The speed of media attempts to salvage minutes from our day, but in the process years are abandoned. Holes in the record of memory expand to impossible proportion. In the lacuna, the disaster of forgetting, do we salvage or start anew? Salvaging may already only be a process of beginning again.