Amanda Boetzkes


On her book Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste

Cover Interview of November 13, 2019


When I started the book, my sincere hope was that people would understand that a politics of managing or controlling domestic waste was a symptom of an economic logic, rather than a truly ecological paradigm. I also wanted the reader to see how important art is to visualizing the “big picture” of waste, and making strong connections between the global circulation of waste and the economic paradigm of capitalism.

From my perspective now, it seems more important than ever that people connect to the sensibilities of the artworks I discuss. Nobody is a stranger to the fact that there is a climate crisis, and that global warming is a symptom of carbon emissions, the largest form of planetary waste produced by the global oil economy. The question is: how might we think or feel about this predicament? I would like people to engage with both the affective and somatic dimensions of waste through these works of art. The artworks are reflective, energizing, even if they strike us with the grief and overwhelm of ecological catastrophe.

I would like readers to come away knowing how intelligent and generative the realm of contemporary art really is. So many people think of art as an unnecessary extravagance. I could not disagree more. This is a symptom of how cheap the capitalist orientation is, and how much it demands that we deprive ourselves of what is exuberant in life. Contemporary art may be extravagant, but we need its form of criticism and insight. Artists show us perspectives of the global condition that are often denounced or diminished because they sit at odds with the calculated ways in which we visualize the world. I see this as a sign of how deeply entrenched economic thinking has become.

I hope this book goes some distance towards showing that we cannot envision a future without artistic visualization; and that artistic visualization might find us a way of being that breaks with the capitalist mindset. This is a hope not just for the public at large, but for scholars too. Capitalism impoverishes people from all walks of life. Precarious times can make people think cheaply and forget the energies and aesthetic dimensions of planetary life. The artists in this book have not forgotten, however, and want to remind all of us how much we need to waste to live, and to waste well. To understand that statement as an ecological one, however, you would have to spend some time reading the book!