The danger of cooperation, however pleasant and exciting, is that you suddenly find yourself where you would never have been otherwise – in this case on the edge of a stinking five-meter-deep hole in a mountain of 25-year-old kitchen refuse at a dump outside Stockholm. I stood there thinking, “This is the stupidest project I have ever been involved in”. But there was no way of shirking our responsibility; we had come up with the idea, been commissioned to do this job – and now it had to be done. If I had been on my own I would never have climbed down into the refuse. I would have fled, said I was ill, fainted, I would have done anything to get out of this. Above all I would have delegated the task. There must be somebody who’s an expert on this kind of thing, climbing down and carrying out an archaeological dig among refuse. Gunilla Bandolin was more keen on authenticity than I was; of course we should go down ourselves and search for archaeological finds. Everything should be filmed and photographed. The team from Swedish Travelling Exhibitions were ready with their cameras.
It was even more disgusting than I had thought. Later I learnt that it was not without risk either; methane can displace available oxygen. People can faint from lack of oxygen. The smell was appalling. It sort of stuck in one’s nose. No matter how much we washed ourselves we couldn’t get rid of it. It diminished by and by, and it disappeared after a couple of days. On the days when it lingered I could hardly handle my own refuse. My own tied-up plastic bags with new and fresh refuse looked almost identical to the relatively well-preserved bags down in the excavation. We were unable to be among the refuse for more than twenty minutes at a time; we had to return several times. We excavated everyday objects: a toothbrush, a Barbie doll, a margarine container, a Nivea jar, nylon stockings. There were also scraps of food and diapers. It really blew your mind – diapers with pooh preserved for such a long time. The children were now in their twenties. With the help of discarded daily papers we were able to date the refuse.
The exhibition we were working with was about environmental issues, about how to protect the environment. At the time, in the mid nineties, sorting of recyclable waste had just begun. There was a strong faith that this would solve the world’s refuse problems. We were more skeptical, and we wanted to show what a close relationship we have with our belongings, how dependent we are on them. We did it by excavating these old objects, by bringing them up into the light again, giving them a history and exhibiting them. We showed that they are part of our civilisation, part of the development, and thereby linked to everything else we invent and create. Everything will end up as refuse and we won’t stop manufacturing new things. In this we were assisted by the team from Swedish Travelling Exhibitions and as many co-authors/co-artists as there were objects. Every object got its own artist who gave it a personal interpretation by means of narrations, images, films, quotations and associations, whether true or invented. The exhibition was titled The Museum of Garbage. It toured in a trailer for a year, causing a lot of attention.