If houses were junglelands and the mundane scraps and clutter of daily life were wondrous creatures, Bryant Holsenbeck would be the enchantress working the magic in the soil.
When you open the front door of Bryant’s house and venture inside, it feels as magical as a forest. A fawn on stick legs darts away from your steps, mysterious black birds peer at you from the mantel and the shelves of the bookcases, and turning a corner you startle a fox about to pounce.
Bryant is an environmental artist who works with found and reclaimed materials like bottle caps and scraps of fabric, plastic bottles and bits of wire. She has the fitting spirit of a magician, a nervous energy that alights on each moment with child-like intensity.
Margaret met Bryant in 2008 when she was contracted by Jeanette Stokes at the Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South to make a movie about Bryant. This film, Blackbirds, Bottlecaps, and Broken Records, led to a friendship and provided us with the inspiration for the Trash Blog.
Bryant once asked Margaret, ‘Where is away?’ And Margaret told me about the question, catching me up in the riddle as well. This bit of our daily language, where we announce that we are going to throw this or that item away, or when we tell someone else that they should just throw it away, needs some explaining. Where is Away?
Bryant has spent a lot of time thinking about waste and recycling. Recycling makes people feel good. It’s pretty much the same action as throwing away–dumping an item in a bin–but not only do we get the same desired result (it goes Away) we get a feel-good bonus because we are saving the planet. The way it feels, you might as well just dump a few extra sheets of unused paper into the recycle bin, or buy an item with an especially large package so you can recycle that, too.
Unfortunately, recycling is not as good as it feels, says Bryant. In almost every case, recycling an item diminishes it. As much as we may wish, the process is not a closed loop where one sheet of paper becomes one new recycled sheet of paper. If it’s paper or plastic or metal, some amount of virgin material will be added to make a new product. Dirt, food, and other contaminants must be removed. In recycling, there is always a loss.
Bryant will tell you that recycling is a distraction, and that her magical scrap animals are poor substitutes for the furry life of the real creatures she fears we are burying with all our trash. If we aren’t going to change our consumption habits and reduce the amount of waste we produce to feed our demands, no amount of recycling will save us.