Folke Köbberling/Martin Kaltwasser – Trash Circulated

ANGST IN FORM, 2010 – For the last 10 years Folke Koebberling and Martin Kaltwasser have devoted their work to the issue of recycling, which has to become an increased significance in the future. Many resources like gasoline are limited, the disposal of these products are often not environmentally safe and expensive. Köbberling & Kaltwasser are going to confront the residents of Halle with waste in urban space. The process of packaging waste and transporting it to domestic or foreign depots usually remains hidden from public view.

Capitalism offers solutions for everything. Profit margins are the mainspring. For a dirty business such as waste disposal, the profits seem to be especially attractive, above all when the difference between legal and illegal disposal (the latter implies ocean dumping or similar dirty tricks that cause greater environmental pollution1) saves money for those who produce waste and assures a tidy profit for those who dispose of it illegally. These are the scandalous crimes of a branch riddled with mafia mechanisms.  How could it be otherwise? Waste, be it of a poisonous or household variety, is transported to dumps abroad, where impoverished states and ignorant and corrupt state authorities offer waste disposal at favourable rates to bolster their domestic economies. Companies are active in this branch also in the German Federal Republic. To operate lucratively they must process large quantities of waste and therefore import it from abroad. The disposal of atomic waste runs along similar lines and, while it may be lucrative for the first in the chain, the populations in whose backyard the waste ultimately lands are confronted with unforeseen health risks and the authorities of those countries with enormous clean-up costs in the future. Bazon Brock speaks rightly of “cathedrals of waste, the incalculable timeline of which by far exceeds that ever imagined in the historical houses of God. What are 1,000-year-old pyramids and cathedrals in comparison to permanent disposal domes containing cult objects with a half-life of over 10,000 years?”2

Folke Köbberling & Martin Kaltwasser have come up with an impressive intervention on the theme of waste disposal, namely to suddenly confront the residents of Halle with waste in urban space. The process of packaging waste and transporting it to domestic or foreign depots usually remains hidden from public view. In a project specially developed for the Werkleitz Festival, this artistic duo renders it visible in an extreme and exaggerated fashion. Köbberling & Kaltwasser will have around thirty circa 1m3 blocks of waste collected in the region, each weighing from 400–750 kg, professionally pressed and bound with metal bands. Presented alternately in combination or in isolation as one-day waste sculptures, the blocks will then be removed and reinstalled in a new location in a new formation. The blocks will consist of plastics, cardboard and other similar types of waste.

Köbberling & Kaltwasser thus take a stand in the art in public space context and bank on an alienating effect. With their intervention they as productive recipients pursue the practice of Appropriation Art, in that they appropriate and make use of existing “images” and forms.3  Eco-activists have already made such images known in the media, for example by installing in front of company headquarters or government ministries temporary camps made from waste sacks, oil drums or dummy containers supposedly filled with chemical or radioactive waste, as a form of protest. The artists in this case also hope to trigger a rethink that may potentially lead to new insights among those sections of the population who have not yet become aware of the problem of waste production and disposal.

Folke Köbberling & Martin Kaltwasser call their project Trash Circulated, thereby referencing the commodities-money-commodities cycle that, if one accepts a strict reading of Marx, mutates to a money-commodities-money cycle. Money doesn’t stink but waste sure does; yet, by the end of the day, it has turned again into its equivalent, money.

The two artists have long since devoted their work to the theme of recycling, which must increasingly gain significance in the future. At art projects in several venues, in Berlin as well as in Cologne, Munich, Zurich, Cambridge, London and Vancouver, they used information and communication processes to gather timber from institutions and build temporary shelters that served community ends for the duration of the projects. In an art-conversion project they built bikes from old car parts. In 2008 two colliding Porsche Cayenne were built from recycled timber: prototypes of militant speeding, condemned in a dual sense, to be a frozen image and at a permanent standstill. The objects produced by Köbberling & Kaltwasser not only illustrate the creative potential of waste appropriation but also deliver a convincingly absurd critique. Also in 2008 these passionate advocates of local and national public transport systems conceived in cooperation with Antje Grabenhorst a system of individual trade in CO2 emissions. The project Private Emission Trade assigns each resident of the FRG private emissions rights. Whoever renounces cars and air travel can sell his or her “pollution rights” and thereby earn an income of up to 1,500€. The “links between income, work, non-work and air pollution”4 were thus elaborated in a plausible fashion. 

(text: Matthias Reichelt)

1 Cf. Matteo Garrone’s film Gomorrha – Reise ins Reich der Camorra, which is based on the eponymous book by Roberto Saviano.

2 Bazon Brock: Der Barbar als Kulturheld. Ästhetik des Unterlassens. Kritik der Wahrheit. Gesammelte Schriften 1991–2002. Cologne: DuMont 2002, p. 192.

3 Cf.. Stefan Römer on Appropriation Art, in: Hubertus Butin (ed.): DuMonts Begriffslexikon zur zeitgenössischen Kunst. Cologne (2002) 2006, p.15.


Folke Köbberling & Martin Kaltwasser

Folke Köbberling, born 1969, and Martin Kaltwasser, born 1965, live and work in Los Angeles and Berlin.

Folke Köbberling studied Fine Arts at Kunsthochschule Kassel and at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver and received her MA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kassel. Martin Kaltwasser studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg before he changed to the Technical University Berlin, where he made his Diploma in Architecture. They gave lectures and workshops at London Metropolitan University, University of Arts Berlin, University of Kassel, ETH Zürich, Academy of Fine Arts Hamburg, University of Innsbruck.

They have exhibited internationally and were most recently included in the 2009 São Paulo Architecture Biennial and at Marta Herford. Recent solo exhibitions include Power Plant, Marfa, USA (2010), Galerie Anselm Dreher, Berlin (2009), Lothringer 13/Laden, Munich (2008), Shedhalle Zurich (2007). In 2009 they were artists in residence of CSW in Warsaw, Poland, Villa Serpentara, Italy and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, USA. Recent awards include a grant from Kunstfonds Bonn to publish their new book "Hold it!".