J a n e t M c E w a n
Tarland, Aberdeenshire 2002
In a recently vacated hardware shop in the village of Tarland, around 30 miles west, of Aberdeen, I installed the complete contents of a midden (domestic rubbish dump) found at the bottom of my garden in Scotland. It seemed not insignificant that the midden was discovered at a spot in the garden while clearing an area to construct composting boxes., for household and garden waste. It also seemed very probable that many of the items exhumed during the dig, which suggested that the midden spanned around 100 years of use, would have possibly originally been purchased in the very same hardware shop, which had been an Alladin's cave established for more than a century, and we were therefore returning them to their source.
The decision to exhibit the midden was in part a response to my frustration at the policy of the national milk supplier to the village milkman, who would only supply organic milk in plastic bottles, which, as there was no nearby recycling point, would therefore be heading for landfill. Ironically, standard milk was then still supplied in glass bottles, which could be returned. I was prepared to pay above the supermarket price for this service. I was told that there were not enough people wanting a returnable bottle, and that the demands of the out of town shopper, who were in the majority, informed the producers decisions.
A chance meeting with Judith Aylett, from the Marr Area Partnership, who in her role as a development worker, supporting grass roots initiatives, was in conversation with Aberdeenshire Council about their waste management strategy, led to a funding grant to develop a small project, the heart of which would be the 'midden', aimed at imaginatively engaging local people in this issue.
The ironmongers shop which was located in the village square, compromised of two floors, with street facing windows.
On entering the space, on the lower floor, the first encounter was partly the aroma of wet soil, from a pile of earth I placed near the entrance, and sprayed every day to keep moist, with an implied fertility.
Questioning museum curatorial selection processes, I displayed the entire contents of the midden, including tiny unidentifyable fragments. The collection stimulated much discussion, storytelling and reminiscing which we tried to record. Alongside the midden I showed images taken at the landfill site located 15 miles away, which served the whole area. The landfill site as tomorrow's archaeologic dig.
The second floor of the shop housed an installation made from plastic gathered by local folk . I constructed two temporary plastic partition walls which contained suspended plastic bottles, and referred in part to the local historical tradition of infilling stone built walls with waste. The feeling on the top floor was very much darker than the slightly nostalgic atmosphere ( not least for the loss of another village shop) on the lower floor and this was enhanced by five TV monitors showing footage of the surfaces of the landfill site. The sound of machines and scavanging gulls from the site permeated the room.
This project linked with local community groups, including the Tarland Development Group, Tarland Hiistory Group, and local primary school. During the week of occupation in the former villege shop there was always someone present, usually myself and another member of the local history group, to talk to visitors, and record their thoughts about the installation and the complex issues and conundrums surrounding waste management. In addition several informal evening discussion groups ran alongside the show in the nearby village hotel, where local people could air their views, and suggest strategies to improve current waste management practice.
I am vey grateful to all the people from Tarland who supported this project with their time and enthusiasm.