54 Jefferson SE is the former site of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which relocated to its current home on the banks of the Grand River in 1994. For 15 years the Jefferson building sat vacant, displays partially deconstructed, gathering dust.
In the summer of 2010 the non-profit creative venture SiTE:LAB, led by curator Paul Amenta and Tom Clinton, was permitted access to the space and seized upon the opportunity to organize a cohort of regional artists and creatives to transform deteriorating galleries and vitrines into a new, vibrant collection of displays, often incorporating artifacts, dioramas and didactic materials just as they found them. The culmination of this activity, Michigan: Land of Riches, was a unique collaboration between venerable institution, the creative community, and a nostalgic public keen to revisit a space so important to its history.
My own contributions to Land of Riches included an installation, The GR Streetside Collection. The formal and conceptual context of the museum presented the ideal opportunity to share my collection of found objects for the first time, with the very population from which it has originated.
Original artist's statement:
The GR Streetside Collection is an installation of thousands of artifacts I have recovered from the streets of Grand Rapids while walking, running, or riding my bike. Initiated in 1998, this collection now represents fifteen years in the history of our city or, more specifically, our material existence. Broken toys, smashed sunglasses, disposable lighters, auto fragments and other detritus reflect our societal values, our relationship to litter, and the fickle sensibilities of popular culture.
There is a strange inevitability when one undertakes a project such as this: garbage becomes precious, or at least some of it does. Even objects abandoned on the street assume value through the act of collecting, which privileges certain things over others. My quest for particular rubbish fills every journey with the promise of riches.
In displaying these finds as cultural artifacts (or as art) it is not my desire to aestheticize trash, but to promote our critical examination of its contents and celebrate the simple act of picking it up.