News / Edmonton

Dirty work: Artist starts residency at waste management centre

Leanne Olson will spend the next six months finding artistic beauty and meaning in Edmonton's garbage.

Edmonton Waste Management Centre welcomed its first Artist-in-Residence, Leanne Olson, 

on Monday.

Omar Mosleh / Metro

Edmonton Waste Management Centre welcomed its first Artist-in-Residence, Leanne Olson, on Monday.

Leanne Olson’s new job kind of stinks, but that doesn’t bother her.    

The visual artist started her six-month residency at Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre Monday, after being selected by the Edmonton Arts Council out of nearly 30 applicants.

“The smell I think is fascinating, because if I have an exhibition there in the future it will be an all-senses experience,” Olson said with a laugh.

“I kind of like that reaction of the ickiness. I’m really intrigued by that, the ick. And then at what point is the ick aesthetically pleasing, or how far can I push it.”

Her residency is the first of its kind in Edmonton.

Olson has focused on waste and environmental decay with her previous conceptual photography work – she spent the last four years shooting disappearing lakes and sulphurous streams across Alberta.

Artwork by Leanne Olson from 2010.

Artwork by Leanne Olson from 2010.

She also works in the print studio at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts and as a community art project facilitator with the Bissell Centre.

When the arts council put out a call for for applications last September, Olson was drawn to the residency by the ideas of impermanence, root causes of waste, and psychological reasons behind overconsumption.

“The part that I’m really stuck on right now is why is there so much? Why does it keep growing and growing?” Olson said.

About 9,800 tonnes of waste cross the scale every week at the 233-hectare waste centre on the northeast outskirts of the city.

By the end of her first day she was already struck by the sheer volume of waste, and had started to rethink her own consumption.

“If I feel the need to go through a drive-thru, why? What happened in my day to get me to need to do that? Because I know a drive-thru has waste,” she said.

“I’ve been trying to document that and think, ‘OK it’s because I’m lonely, it’s because I had a hard day, because I think I deserve it,’ or something. I need to unpack that.”

Artwork by Leanne Olson.

Artwork by Leanne Olson.

Olson is stationed in a storage room-turned-studio inside the Integrated Processing Transfer Facility, where the trash gets dumped off and sorted.

At the end of her residency, she will compile her best work into an exhibition, which she hopes to hold at the waste management centre.

Olson expects to shoot thousands of photos, with the hopes of about a half-dozen standouts for the exhibition.

Michael Robertson, contract manager for the Materials Recovery Facility at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, said in a statement that Olson’s work will provide a fresh perspective on waste.

“Leanne's passion for capturing change in the natural world connects to our goals of waste reduction and environmental stewardship,” he said.

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