For a cynic, Vivan Sundaram makes charming work. To produce “Trash,” the artist paid waste pickers to haul garbage into his Delhi studio. There he built a miniature metropolis from the debris, replete with soda-can towers and toothbrush plazas.
Sundaram, one of India’s most prominent contemporary artists, presents about a dozen photos and videos he made of this project. He makes obvious references to the rise of the Indian consumer class, suggesting it generates lots of refuse along with spiritual bankruptcy and other problems. While the artist’s critique of these social ills falls short of constructive, the digitally assembled photos of his fantastic city are wonderful.
Large in scale and rich in detail, these images depict an urban mecca filled with both ugliness and creativity. In Two Towers, a toy plane careens between stacked towers of Diet Coke and beer, warning against incurring terrorist wrath by sharing ideologies with the West. But Sundaram inserts playful moments, too. A Spider-Man figurine soars above skyscrapers and bridges in Fly, and toy jets, cars and birds cause highway gridlock in Master Plan.
When we step back from these infinitesimal details, the energy and vivacity of Sundaram’s color palette and the dynamism of his compositions become apparent. Although “Trash” fails to take into account the positive benefits of India’s economic ascent, such as a sharp decrease in poverty, it raises legitimate concerns.