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How artist Gavin Turk confronts us with today’s society

Gavin Turk

As a former member of the Young British Artists, you may think Gavin Turk is led by popular demand. Nothing less is true, though, with this artist who fills cans with “artist’s urine”. Hence, Turk is capable of confronting people with the craziness of today’s society like no other. Discover what drives him and what lessons to learn from his work.

Cover photo: © Gavin Turk – Watercolour Bottle, 2019 – Courtesy Reflex Amsterdam

Gavin Turk

Contemporary artist Gavin Turk (1967) has been fascinated by trash and waste since years. As a fanatic member of Extinction Rebellion, he investigates the beauty, purpose and impact of trash in general. Waste is a re-occurring topic in his work in general, exploring its function, symbolism and values.

Plastic waste

With his artworks, Turk undermines the current view on beauty and emphasizes the huge waste of plastics and other disposable objects. Around the globe, every minute one million disposable plastic are being produced. These plastic bottles end up everywhere. Those that did end up in Turk’s work, are up-cycled to new objects: from sculptures to paintings.

In line with this, it isn’t without reason that Financial Times recently labeled Turk as the “laureate of waste”. In the same interview, the artist explained why he’s so obsessed with waste: “We are what we throw away.”

Hence, Turk’s latest fascination is about plastic bottles. Why? His gallery statement explains it well: “The demand in the ironic symbolic purity of water is causing our oceans to be filled with microplastics. PET plastic is highly recyclable, yet big companies believe that consumers would not buy a slightly murky or imperfect bottle. So instead, 93% of all plastic water bottles are newly formed.

Gavin Turk - Bag Soup, 2006 - Courtesy Reflex Amsterdam
Gavin Turk – Bag Soup, 2006 – Courtesy Reflex Amsterdam

These pieces of art have a strong effect on their audience, highlighting cultural behaviors, programmed beliefs and challenging them to let go of beliefs that moments ago were true. Turk’s work is thought-provoking and creates an extra sense of awareness at its audience.

“We are what we throw away”

Provoking work

Gavin Turk isn’t only fascinated by waste. For one of his latest project, he collects “artist’s urine” in cans. This project is in courtesy of his late source of inspiration, Piero Manzoni. Manzoni had a similar project back in the ’60s: he filled up 90 cans with his own urine, calling it “Merda d’Artista”. Believe it or not, these cans were filed for more than 100.000 British pounds by Christie’s in 2012.

It may be clear that Gavin Turk knows how to provoke. With his work, Turk highlights the pain points of our society. While politics are a mess, global warming is more visible than ever and plastic use is under fire, the artist turns this conversation into something beautiful, provoking global awareness for these topics. Well done.

Solo exhibition Gavin Turk

From October 19 till December 6, Turk will have a solo exhibition at Reflex Gallery in Amsterdam. His exhibition “Letting Go” is based on today’s trash, which is turned into treasures under curation of the master himself.

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