University students, faculty, and staff generate enormous mountains of paper waste. Research, rough drafts, cleaned out lockers, library print outs, discarded homework assignments, printed emails, photocopied class reading, dated event flyers, old newspapers, and endless other pieces of ephemera pile up in campus-wide recycling bins. In his exhibition Paper Trails (Going Through Your Garbage), Marc Fischer sorts hundreds of pounds of paper destined to be recycled by UICycle into stacks of newspapers arranged by title, wall displays of continually botched photocopies, past date event flyers sorted by color, and mounds of crumpled balls of emails or letter drafts. Slowly building a massive, neatly organized installation filling the entire gallery, Fischer went through the university's papers marking aesthetic categories, revealing behavior patterns, and classifying systems in the university's waste.
It is a common (if unsettling) bit of knowledge that if you want to learn a lot about a person or a place, an efficient way to do this is by looking through their garbage. Here you will be able to find evidence of what kind of mail they receive, what they eat, what newspapers and magazines they read, what kind of medicine they take, how much money they make, and how they spend that money (as indicated by discarded shopping receipts). During the two-week period of the exhibition, Fischer will work in the galleries to bring a clear visual order to the masses of material generated across campus. The paper waste is left in its original form—nothing was cut, written on, painted, or otherwise transformed. Unobtrusive display methods, such as push pins, are used to secure things to the walls as needed. At the end of the project, all of the paper will be placed back into recycling bins and carried off by the University's recycling service.
A self-published booklet, including quotes on the history and ethics of trash picking, was produced about the project. Free copies are available inside the gallery.
Paper Trails (Going Through Your Garbage) was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2002 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series.