Form Follows Garbage

Jan Eric Visser has been transforming his everyday inorganic garbage items into autonomous works of art since 1987. He likes to refer to this ongoing process as ‘Form Follows Garbage’, exploring the boundaries of his control over shape, material and color, at the same time addressing pressing environmental issues like resource shortage and overconsumption by reducing his own carbon footprint.

Waste may be said to materialize time. Thus it provides measure to our uses, projects and ambitions. Asserting a material presence, at the same time avoiding the descriptive content of waste, Jan Eric Visser places waste in suspended animation. Set apart from a time of human activity, reconnected with the activity of human perception.


Visser’s working method opens the door wide to formal diversity.  His sculptures are the result of a simple but effective process, creating new shapes by assembling waste materials., that are subsequently wrapped in waste (news) paper pulp. Once impregnated with wax (votive candle residue) and softly polished the objects take on a new identity. The forms are hardly ever anticipated. Although the garbage found in his own bin or incidentally gathered outside is always the guiding principle, the art objects are largely autopoetic. They as it were emerge from the waste and present themselves to the artist. Trying hard to keep up with the pace of his bin filling up, the artist considers his sculptures ‘intervals’ in a continual process. Underneath the shiny surface of the enigmatic shapes, one can only imagine the hidden leftovers of modern society. The works are separate identities that ideally go beyond the domain of language and its conditioned response and are therefore never titled. Impregnated with wax the works implicitly refer to the myth of Icarus. Playing on the illusion of aesthetics, the sculptures may be said to reflect on the notion of beauty as captured by commerce, design and the advertising industry resulting in an overwhelming amount of waste.

Unlike the artists of the Arte Povera Movement Visser’s work does not refer to a pre-industrial era but to a post-industrial future in which resources will be cherished and no longer landfilled or incinerated as ‘waste’. Visual art and life to him are all about materialization and tangibility. If you do not connect to matter you do not connect with the world around you. You keep life at a distance, making it abstract, conceptual or virtual. This collective inability of modern man to relate to the world as a physical entity, enfeebles him and turns him into a mere consumer.  For this reason the artist looks upon his choice of material as a betrayal of a more intrinsic relationship with matter and life and as a metaphor for the inability of mankind to truly comprehend anything.

Outdoor Projects

Exploring modern aesthetics at the interface of tradition and innovation Visser’s outdoor sculptures offer a platform for newly developed recycling materials.

Aquadyne Sculpture (2008) consists of assembled litter from the countryside of Yorkshire – heart of the industrial revolution- packaged in Aquadyne. This new material made of recycled waste plastics allows for the rooting of plants. Even vegetables may be grown on it.

Roteb Eco Monument (2011) was commissioned by the City of Rotterdam and realized in co-creation with some 80 workers of Roteb, the Municipal Waste Department, and scientists in the field of sustainable energy and botany. The work consists of retrieved materials like a concrete staircase, rubble, aluminum and plastic production waste, bicycle wrecks in combination with Aquadyne, solar panels, a hydroponic fertilizer system and grass.

Untitled (2013-2014)ecological concrete, recycled plastics (Aquadyne), consumer waste, reclaimed river bricks was commissioned by Rabobank. The work incorporates 18 trash bags of Visser’s own inorganic household waste, ‘our joint capital for the future to be safeguarded by the bank’ as he puts it. The work aspires a reconnection between modern man and matter.

In his latest outdoor sculpture projects Visser applies and showcases an innovative photocatalytic concrete newly developed by Technical University Eindhoven. This concrete of waste materials is capable of eliminating air pollution also known as nitrogen oxides.

Recoding and re-animating waste, Jan Eric Visser engages himself with matters beyond recycling and its narrative of use. Reconciling concept, matter and activism his sculptures raise notions of consummation and transience, enigma and exigency, matter and existence, life and art.