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OED Definition
Pronunciation: /dɪˈtrʌɪtəs/
Noun [mass noun]: waste or debris of any kind: gravel, sand, silt, or other material produced by erosion; organic matter produced by the decomposition of organisms.
Origin: late 18th century (in the sense ‘detrition’): from French détritus, from Latin detritus, from deterere ‘wear away’

Dada poet Tristan Tzara recalled Kurt Schwitters’ use of the detritus everyday life in his early collages: “I remember seeing Schwitters pick up in the streets scraps of old iron, broken watch works, bizarre and absurd materials which even junk men would have discarded, to use them in the fabrication of works of art.”

“Merz paintings are abstract works of art. The word ‘Merz’ essentially means the totality of all imaginable materials that can be used for artistic purposes and technically the principle that all of these individual materials have equal value. Merz art makes use not just of paint and canvas, brush and palette, but all the materials visible to the eye and all tools needed … the wheel off a pram, wire mesh, string and cotton balls – these are factors of equal value to paints. The artist creates by choosing, distributing and reshaping the materials.” – I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, p. 91.

“I don’t think there is much in the country [Tuvalu]: a bunch of semi-submerged islands, some leftover second world war machinery, and a society that can’t afford to get rid of its rubbish, and so the detritus floats around the feet of the houses (no help from Britain who tossed it aside after being its colonial usurper).” – Ben Rivers on Tuvalu where he visited to shoot footage for his video Slow Action (2010).

“The first violent and inheritable clash with a new reality has been overcome with a purely escapist approach: the art of chance, of welter, of discards, of the old and of trash, followed by the elevation of detritus to a mythical status.” Alik Cavaliere – Alternatuive attuali 3 exhibition catalogue, Centro Di edizioni L’Aquila, 1968

Cheryl Donegan – File (2003) 09:20 File looks to consumer detritus for inspiration, as well as Rem Koolhaas’ notion of the “junkspace” of modern cities.

Jedediah Caesar – Untitled (2008) Road trip performance and sculpture mixed media installation (truck, objects), variable dimensions, 2008 California Biennial

Christoph Büchel – Dump (2008) Installation, Dimensions variable. Installation view at Palais de Tokyo, Paris/FR

Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro – Deceased Estate (2004) installation of entire found detritus from artists’ warehouse in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998) mattress, linens, pillows, objects, 79 x 211 x 234 cm

Richard Dupont – Assisted Head (2011) cast archival polyurethane resin with studio and personal detritus, found, salvaged, recycled objects and waste on artist’s pedestal, 26 x 16 x 21 inches

Maggie Madden – Detritus of Everyday Life (2007) cardboard boxes, packaging, styrofoam.

Kurt Schwitters - Das UndBild (1919)

Kurt Schwitters – Das UndBild (1919)

Amanda Ross-Ho – Restraining Order (2005), dimensions variable, artificial plastic balloons, studio detritus, hot glue, sawhorses



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