Tourist Tuesday: The Rubbish Collection

titleI recently visited the Science Museum just to walk around. Well, to be truthful, I went to the museum to do recon for a job interview I had the next day. You know, make sure I knew what I was talking about. So I only had my phone and I wasn’t looking for a Tourist Tuesday post, but then I went crazy for the Rubbish Exhibit. Therefore, please excuse the shoddy pictures.

The exhibit was awesome and I have to tell you about it even though it is no longer on display. (Also, fyi, I got the job and as long as all my paperwork and visa and what have you go through, then I start in October! WOOT!)

The Rubbish exhibit was put together by artist Joshua Sofaer. For 30 days he, and others, collected rubbish that was discarded from the museum by visitors, staff, and contractors. But it wasn’t just trash as it was thrown into the bin, the exhibit also included rubbish as it went out to be recycled and sorted. You know sometimes at Whole Foods you can buy a reusable bag and it says “I used to a plastic bottle” or something like that? Well I couldn’t fathom that until I saw the shredded up bits of plastic in the exhibit.

I fell in love with the exhibit because of this letter from a presumably pre-teen girl to a boy she liked. It is heartbreaking! She says she’ll get over him and she says not to show the note to anyone. Oops. Looks like the museum (and I) are breaking that request. It was just innocent and sweet and I felt thirteen again. I felt connect to her and what was likely her classes’ school trip experience. I remember being so excited for school trips so I could sit on the bus with my friends and maybe get assigned to a group with the boy I liked. I remember passing notes, sitting near the boys at lunch, and getting all abuzz with my friends when a boy would look over.  I also remember getting notes like that and promptly showing the notes to my friends. I might have been the worst adolescent girl. Anyway, as a museum educator today I tend to think about how people learn content and experience the museum. I tend to forget all the other experiences and emotions that can happen. I found it fun to see the museum from a more social perspective.


I actually think that a museum would be a great setting for a TV show. Think about the format of Scrubs, where the main cast are the hospital staff but sometimes the patients are influential and central to the story line. So, in my museum show, the main cast would be some combination of visitor services, education, curatorial, and maintenance staff and then the story would be how they interact with the people who come to the museum. Imagine episodes tracking a thief in the shop, or adolescents being awkward and flirting, or protesters outside the museum picketing some exhibit. I’d watch that show.

Anyway, back to the exhibit. It’s crazy the types of things people throw away. These people below are the backs of signs used to show where the bathrooms are. Above them in the word bubble are a series of notes that were put in someone’s lunch. Another of my favorite items are the pieces and rules for a homemade game. How cool is that?!

A book I liked when I was a kid was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The main character, Claudia, and her brother, Jamie, run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They pick the museum in part because it will be comfortable – and this exhibit has me convinced that it would be entirely possible to hideaway in a museum. Look at all these medicines, cleaning supplies, clothes, and a sleeping bag. There’s even a suitcase to fit it all!

I really liked the row of shoes. Who the heck throws away shoes? And why so many shoes? Years ago Ryan lived in Alexandria, VA and many times when he and I would drive into DC we’d see a shoe on the side of the road. This was not just once, it was many times over many years, all on the same road. WHY? Why did people throw their shoes away? I still don’t have the answer, but I know people throw shoes away in all kinds of places.


Most shocking though were these items. A negative pregnancy test and a condom wrapper. What are people doing in the museum? I think this just reinforces my idea that a sitcom would work. There is a whole world of things happening in the museum!


Joshua Sofaer, the artist said, “Museums generally display objects that have a special status, that are rare, or valuable. In this project I want to give that treatment to the stuff that is normally discarded.” I liked that he rearranged broken things to look normal or he stacked random things to look orderly. I liked getting a glimpse into the various arenas of the museum and not just what you could see as a regular tourist.


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