Plastic Capitalism

Plastic Capitalism

Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste

By Amanda Boetzkes

An argument for the centrality of the visual culture of waste—as seen in works by international contemporary artists—to the study of our ecological condition.





An argument for the centrality of the visual culture of waste—as seen in works by international contemporary artists—to the study of our ecological condition.

Ecological crisis has driven contemporary artists to engage with waste in its most non-biodegradable forms: plastics, e-waste, toxic waste, garbage hermetically sealed in landfills. In this provocative and original book, Amanda Boetzkes links the increasing visualization of waste in contemporary art to the rise of the global oil economy and the emergence of ecological thinking. Often, when art is analyzed in relation to the political, scientific, or ecological climate, it is considered merely illustrative. Boetzkes argues that art is constitutive of an ecological consciousness, not simply an extension of it. The visual culture of waste is central to the study of the ecological condition.

Boetzkes examines a series of works by an international roster of celebrated artists, including Thomas Hirschhorn, Francis Alÿs, Song Dong, Tara Donovan, Agnès Varda, Gabriel Orozco, and Mel Chin, among others, mapping waste art from its modernist origins to the development of a new waste imaginary generated by contemporary artists. Boetzkes argues that these artists do not offer a predictable or facile critique of consumer culture. Bearing this in mind, she explores the ambivalent relationship between waste (both aestheticized and reviled) and a global economic regime that curbs energy expenditure while promoting profitable forms of resource consumption.


$34.95 T ISBN: 9780262039338 272 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 81 color illus., 5 b&w illus.


  • Boetzkes offers a broad and subtle discussion of sustainability, art, and plastic waste in a world governed by neoliberal capitalism. The book shows us how we might strip away that veneer and make a spectacle of the waste that constitutes its materiality. Whether through a quasi-ecstatic celebration of our intimate coexistence with waste, or through photographic autopsy of the bodies that died from ingesting our plastic, the works discussed in this volume expose the undeniable fact that plastic is everywhere.

    The Literary Review of Canada

  • In her trenchant critique, she addresses the global trend of waste in visual culture, while surveying the implications on our collective value systems and the universal ecological condition.


  • Amanda Boetzkes engages powerfully with art's roles in exposing and helping us to think through both current and historical habits of waste. Her book makes a timely and trenchant contribution to a broad understanding of contemporary art and to the specific urgency of understanding waste.

    Mark A. Cheetham

    Professor, History of Art, University of Toronto, Author of Landscape into Eco Art: Articulations of Nature since the '60s

  • In Boetzkes's fascinating book, art is contextualized in the world of globalized and aestheticized consumer capitalism—and it has an engaged role to play: one of representation, trenchant critique, and presumably the instigation of social and ecological transformation. This is basic reading for anyone interested in contemporary art (and its future), and a fundamental reference point for all forthcoming work on this topic.

    Allan Stoekl

    Professor Emeritus, Penn State University, author of Bataille's Peak: Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability