Discarded Detroit couches get pin-up treatment
Asking 'What leads people to throw things away?' Sarah Sharp photographs Detroit's abandoned couch population — yes, you read that right — in all of its down-and-out but not-necessarily-depressing glory.
Tue, May 03 2011 at 9:00 AM
Photos courtesy of Sarah Sharp
Yesterday, I blogged about what happens
when reuse-minded Brooklyn residents haul unwanted furniture to the curb on a non-trash pickup day and offer it up to the freecycle gods as part of a time-honored New York tradition. Ideally, the cast-off furniture is plucked from the street and given a nice, new home by a random passerby. If said furniture is in rough shape and/or no one on the street takes a liking to it, it’s eventually picked up for collection and landfilled … not the happiest ending but at least an attempt was made. In the least ideal situation, either the resident who discarded the furniture or the person who picked it up is fined by the NYC Department of Sanitation.
So what happens to furniture (specifically couches) in a city that isn't New York (specifically Detroit
) that’s dumped outside to be (or this instance, mostly not to be) collected by the sanitation department? Usually the couch sits. And sits. And sits. And then, if it’s lucky, the couch will be photographed and crowned as "Miss May" as part of a 2012 wall calendar titled Couches of Detroit
For her Couches of Detroit calendar project, photographer and writer Sarah Sharp (a former New York resident who now calls Detroit home) snapped these unlikely pin-up objects in all of their discarded, decomposing glory. And to help make the calendar a reality, Sharp has just launched a Kickstarter campaign
. Sharps’ goal of raising $7,500 by July 1 will allow her to order a minimum of 500 full-color, high-quality 11x17 wall calendars and release them by September 2011.
Sharp explains Couches of Detroit on the project’s Kickstarter page:
What leads people to throw things away?
Living in Detroit, I often wonder at the rationale we use to assign value to objects and places. Things we want so much when we first see them, save and spend to possess, and eventually come to disregard and abandon. Things like couches. Things like Detroit.
I am in the process of creating a calendar of 12 Detroit landscapes, each featuring a discarded or abandoned couch. To you, it may signify the apocalyptic tidings of an empty city, but for some people, Detroit allows a great deal of freedom for reinvention. Municipal services are limited to the point where an abandoned couch might sit on the street for a month or more, maybe even long enough for someone to see it not as trash, but art.
Like other Kickstarter projects, contributors get a “piece” of the funded project that varies by donation level. Those who pledge a $1 or more will receive an art postcard from Sharp’s 50 States project
; with a pledge of $5 or more, contributors will receive a found-art object from the streets of Detroit that “will not smell bad or actively decompose;” with a pledge of $15 you’ll get your very own Couches of Detroit 2012 wall calendar in the standard 11x17 (open) size; and finally, contributors who pledge $30 or more will be the proud owners of a limited edition Couches of Detroit calendar in the premium 13.5 x 19 (open) size.
Although you can read more about the Couches of Detroit calendar at Sharp’s Tumblr blog
and at Untapped Cities
(and see more photos here
) I thought I’d go straight to the source and ask Sharp herself (I know her better as Rosie), to share a few further thoughts on the art of photographing abandoned couches in Detroit. She explains:
Street couches in New York City and other places have been literally vilified — considered eyesores or thought responsible for spreading bedbugs — and you will rarely see such a dangerous offender left alone on the street for long. Here in Detroit, I like to see that these abandoned couches have a life beyond being discarded. During warm weather, people congregate on and around them in empty lots full of wildflowers and leftover domestic ruins, using them at their most fundamental — as a place to sit.
The value judgment passed by those who leave these couches — on both the object and on Detroit itself — is clear: here is something worthless. But to those who remain loyal and engaged with this city, there is a different perspective. Having shrunk so dramatically with the flight of those chasing the false prosperity of the auto industry, this remaining Detroit population is not as quick as some others to discard and demolish. After all, the less you need, the more time you can spend relaxing on the couch.
Like Kevin Bauman's also-shot-in-Detroit 100 Abandoned Houses
project, Sharp's photographs can be described as beautiful, haunting, and borderline despairing. But capturing gloomy urban decay isn't quite what Sharp is going for. Despite being neglected and left to rot, Detroit's abandoned couches are mighty proud pieces of furniture. Yes, they're eyesores — but they're proud, sometimes playful, eyesores, and as Sharp points out, many have a life in between being unceremoniously discarded and eventually landfilled. And if they're really lucky, with your help
that second life as artful refuse will be memorialized in a 2012 wall calender.
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