Buckeye Couple Uses Art to Underscore Our Throwaway Culture

Husband and wife Nathan Gorgen and Molly Burke believe that behavior change toward sustainability starts at home, and they use an art series as a means of addressing their own practices with the hope of influencing others.

Expanding Waste Line is their series of low-relief painted sculptures and a furniture line constructed from low-cost materials and material waste. The series is meant to be an ongoing, “expanding” collaboration and is a response to our society’s throwaway culture as well as the high cost of creating artwork from new materials.

Nathan Gorgen is the instructional lab supervisor for the Studios for Art and Design Research at Ohio State, and his wife, Molly Burke, received a master of fine arts degree from Ohio State in 2009 and is an assistant professor and the assistant director of graduate studies at the Columbus College of Art & Design. “As a busy couple with full-time jobs and a toddler, we understand all too well the convenience of fast-everything culture,” Burke says, “and we struggle with minimizing our consumption.”

The art series idea was conceived several years ago but came to fruition early this year. Burke explains that the issue of waste is something she and her husband discuss on a regular basis, and they decided to finally begin a collaborative project to tackle this problem.

Over the years, Gorgen and Burke have accumulated a multitude of unused objects, tools and materials, and this project created the opportunity to put these supplies to use. The current series was completed within two months, but Burke says some of the materials used were five or more years old. Gorgen and Burke were careful that their works did not appear to be constructed from trash or waste but rather subtly referenced the environment and the visual impact construction has on landscape.

Regarding the question of how others working in similar creative professions can become more sustainable and environmentally friendly in their work, Burke responds: “We believe that people need to be more conscientious about the materials they acquire before starting projects. Developing a detailed plan of what your artwork will be cuts down on waste left over when the work is done.”

Their series was on display in Hopkins Hall Gallery on the Ohio State campus during July. Elements of the show will be featured at the Miller Center on Urbana University’s campus later this fall. Gorgen and Burke plan to create more pieces and expand this collaboration. View the display of the current series here: http://mollyjoburke.squarespace.com/#item=expanding-waste-line.

Photos by Erek Nass: Upper Left Series Overview; Middle Right Desk and Chair, constructed from plywood remains from CNC, green insulation foam board, and hardware; Lower Left Sand Dollar Beach, created with plywood, purple insulation foam board, acrylic paint, sumi ink, hydrocal, pins

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.