THE DECADENCE OF TRASHPO (Part I) featuring Theresa Williams' Trashbook Epic + Diane Keys, Richard Canard, Nancy Bell Scott, PrettyLily (xUSA)

Ancient Text for Book Call

"For Ancient Text Call" by Diane Keys (circa April 2011, Elgin Illinois). Considered the first known Trashbook (photo courtesy of the International Union of Mail-Artists)


May 18, 2012 - Many current discussions of Trashpo involve aesthetic issues. Trashpo is evolving and moving into different genres. A burning question emerges: Has Trashpo lost its roots? Has it entered an era of decadence spelling its demise? This two-part series will seek an answer by exploring the rise of the Trashbook and its current situation.


Invention of the Trashbook: Evidence indicates Diane Keys invented the first trashbook in April 2011 (see top photo). In a little more than a year, the Trashbook has evolved at a staggering rate. 


Diane Keys apparently felt it necessary to provide an explanation of Trashpo and Trashbooks as interest swelled:


Here are some observations on the first, prototypical Trashbook:


Anti-art: Diane Keys' original book was anti-art. The "Ancient Text" label suggests a parody of the Classical tradition. Indeed, the burned content of the book might suggest, via Ben Vautier, a radical rejection of artistic and literary traditions.


Haptic & object poetry: Diane's first trashbook cannot be read in any conventional or linear way. It is object or haptic poetry.


Materials: Trashpo uses discarded materials destined to become in one form another an environmental hazard. Thus, and this is probably the single most important unifying concept, Trashpo is a form of RECYCLING, taking what is considered waste and recycling it into living culture by culture workers. Trashpo has always seemed to resist commodification and thus has the characteristics of:


- Protest against consumerism & consumption

- Protest against environmental destruction

- Protest against corporations, governments & institutions that perpetuate consumerism & waste, including the Art Establishment itself, which is a major offender.

- The early Trashbook was a form of Social Realism.


Richard Canard(Carbondale, Illinois, USA) sent Diane Keys a piece of mail-art very much in keeping with the original concept of the Trashbook. The envelope is made of hammered aluminum, indicating alternatives to paper and cardboard should be considered. Scrap metals, of course, have a symbolic place in the current global economic situation.


Hammered aluminum mailing envelope by Richard Canard (December 2011). Courtesy of International Union of Mail-Artists (IUOMA)


Rise of the Aesthetic Trashbook


The original prototype of the Trashbook was quickly altered. Mail-artists began producing texts that had various aesthetic elements and were not anti-art. The records of the TrashPo Litzer Prize and Landfill of Fame indicate Cheryl Penn (South Africa) and Nancy Bell Scott (USA) created the first known Aesthetic Trashbooks.


Untitled Trashbook by Nancy Bell Scott of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, USA (2011). Considered the first aesthetic trashbook, as documented in Marie Wintzer's TrashPo Litzer winning blog "A trashbook without trash":


Indeed, Cheryl's and Nancy's work was so influential most Trashbooks being posted now are Aesthetic Trashbooks and the earlier prototypes are difficult to find. The shift to the Aesthetic Trashbook did require, when you consider the evidence, adoption of new materials. These include collage and studio scraps that were previously destined for the dumpster.


Also included in the Aesthetic Trashbooks are materials from destroyed books, magazines, and journals, many of them with a cultural focus. These are not commonly found in the street. The commitment to recycling remains intact, but the content widens the field from street trash. Work that uses contrived trash for the purpose of achieving an artistic effect is fake or representational Trashpo. The content shift very likely changes meaning in many contemporary Trashbooks, moving them away from political and social commentary and toward aesthetic concerns: art about art.


Litterature, Meta-Trash, Postmodern Trash or TrashPo Mo


The potential of Trashpo to attain its decadence has already been foreshadowed in work by PrettyLily (Virginia, USA). She was awarded a TrashPo Litzer Prize for her book that was identfied as "meta-trash" or trash about trash. From PrettyLily's meta-Trashbook: 


Pages from Untitled Trashbook by Prettylily (Sue Bowen) (2011). This book earned Prettylilly a TrashPo Litzer Prize.



PrettyLily, brilliantly I might add, used a government-issued booklet about litter in public parks to build a thought-provoking work. Yet a nagging question remains: If the collective belief becomes that trash can only refer to itself and the purpose of the Trashbook is only to present trash about trash, is its impact and significance lessened? Will it ultimately have a purpose or an audience?


Theresa Williams' Trashbook Epic


One of the most stunning Trashbooks I am aware of is shown in the scans below. Theresa Williams (Bowling Green, Ohio, USA) is the author. I am thrilled to be the recipient (and have had it for a while).


Although the work reflects the D-Khaos of earlier Trashbooks with torn pieces and differently sized pages (the main image on the cover is upside-down), this is a stunning achievement in the area of the Aesthetic Trashbook. This is also an incredibly sustained work.


While a certain degree of randomness was probably incorporated in the composition, the success of this work - to me anyway - is achieved through formalism: image pairings, juxtapositions and sequences; repetition of a variety of elements (eyes, animals, colors, etc.), text (including asemic writing) - material was selected and arranged with an aesthetic eye.


The formal structure is built in a masterful way so that many possibilities for meaning are built into the text, one of the central ones being, I think, a meditation on the relation of the Trashbook to the larger currents of culture. But I think it is best for you to dig into the work and reach your own conclusions. I hope you will:


Cover of Trashbook by IUOMA Theresa Williams (Bowling Green, Ohio, USA)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (2-3)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (4-5)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (6-7)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (8-9)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (10-11)


 Trashbook by Theresa Williams (12-13)


 Trashbook by Theresa Williams (14-15)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (16-17)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (18-19)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (20-21)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (22-23)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (24-25)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (26-27)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (28-29)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (30-31)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (32-33)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (34-35)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (36-37)


Trashbook by Theresa Williams (38-39)


(Trashbook by Theresa Williams - 40)


And don't miss Theresa Williams' amazing Letter Project!


Many thanks to the artists who appear in this blog. "The Decadence of Trashpo" is


TO BE CONTINUED in a second blog.





"No! I prefer MinXus!"


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Comment by DKeys on May 20, 2012 at 8:49pm


Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 20, 2012 at 6:29pm

Rebecca Guyver sent some interesting Trashpo-MinXus synthesis mail-art, which proves it can be done.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 20, 2012 at 5:06pm

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 19, 2012 at 4:48am

And what of Cerealism? Social Cerealism?cheerios



Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 19, 2012 at 4:10am

That's really kind Neil. I have the benefit of having been involved in mail-art on & off for a long time. But a lot of the DKult & Trashpo stuff is new (with respectful nods to Schwitters, Leftwich, and others). WIth your role in the DKult, you're helping invent it as we go along. Neil, you earned a TrashPo Litzer for Trashemics! That's major.


Theresa, That's why I call your Trashbook an epic. I had a sense of a panoramic view of history that I couldn't quite articulate - moving through diverse cultural icons, among other things.


Yeah, Kitsch would be a center for Trashpo. It's inherent.


A lot of the trash collected on the streets is going to reflect popular culture. The interpretation gets interesting: Is it a celebration of popcult or a protest against it? The artist can mediate that message or leave it totally ambiguous. As I said, I think recycling is an element of Trashpo & might reflect an ideology to some dergree. I did venture to suggest that.

I think the Aesthetic Trashbooks do get into mixing pop cult & more traditionally "high culture." I don't know about you, but one of the great academic wars I had to live through was whether popular culture could be studied and viewed as art in the same way as high culture, the "highbrow" - "lowbrow" thing. There are definitely still distinctions. That tussle, for me, is still played out in the Trashbooks, as you say, with James Dean alongside figures of classical mythology & what it means.


Mail-art has always had a strong tie to kitsch. First, you have the egalitarian thing going & also Ray Johnson was fascinated with it. He did popart with Elvis, Marilyn, Lucky Strike cigarette packs before even Warhol got into it. So those are mail-art prototypes. It's not clear to me exactly what Johnson's stance was, choosing kitsch as a subject. Before that, he identified with abstract expressionism.


You've raised some huge topics, but really important ones if anyone really wanted to understand what's going on with Trashpo. 


Comment by Susan McAllister on May 19, 2012 at 3:41am
Thanks, De Villo for furthering my education. I had never even heard of Trashpo when I arrived here.
Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 19, 2012 at 2:53am


i send 2 dk
Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 19, 2012 at 2:50am


P B & J

PBJ on bread about 1/4 eaten mushed on scanner bed & scanned

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 19, 2012 at 1:47am

Nancy, I do greatly appreciate your comments. Anti-art is another wrestling a greased pig contest. We discussed several different definitions in another Trashpo blog a few months back. People seemed to favor the Fluxus idea of bringing art out of institutions and out of the hands of professionals and back into everyday life.


The antique world is indeed an amazing journey into "fake," "authentic." "priceless," "junk," and other related things & reveals how those terms are constantly changing. I grew up among fanatic antique collectors so kinda, I don't know, overload on that one.


Marie, the MinXus influence does indeed seem to be spreading.


Rebecca, I always fear these things will twist & wreck your art. Yet you were stellar with your first vispo & continue to due wonderful work - I received a great piece from you this week! Many thanks. Always go with your insticts! They seem to be serving you well. I think M-L is the place for your new work - will contact you w/ more info.


Theresa, I was REALLY struck with the bird imagery in your book, and, yes, the boy watering the bird stays with me. I'm glad this rich vein you developed as a strong image pattern in the book has produced poetry too. I could have discoursed for much longer on the image patterns in the book & am glad you recognize it too.

Comment by Marie Wintzer on May 19, 2012 at 1:08am

Great books all of those! So much material there. Maybe trashpo is indeed taking an aesthetic turn?



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