A lot of the lives of members of the Division of Sanitation (DSNY) revolves round coping with trash (or, uh, generally not coping with trash)—however now they get to have fun the creativity within the division. About 30 DSNY workers have been invited to participate in The 2021 DSNY Art Show.
“A lot of times, we have this unsung appearance about us,” Charlie Eisenbach, a sanitation employee whose artwork is featured within the present, instructed Gothamist this week. “We’re just these guys, this workforce that comes out and just gets rid of the garbage and there’s no face behind it. So this kind of an exhibit takes that hidden essence away, puts a face to some of the workers that are on the job.”
“Sanitation Celebration” opens on November 14th and runs through January 28th at Pace University Gallery in Manhattan. There are photography, video, sculptures, paintings, and more mediums represented, from minimalist self-portraits to large-scale abstract paintings to custom-made sneakers on display. This is the second such DSNY Art Show, after last year’s online-only version.
Eisenbach, 42, works out of Williamsburg, and has been a member of DSNY for 22 years as of this March. His interest in photography was first sparked as he travelled the country watching his kids play in AAU basketball; he then started taking photos of his coworkers and of the things he saw while on the job. Although he said he prefers more natural, off-the-cuff shots, he asked a coworker to pose for the photo being shown in this exhibit (see below), because he was particularly struck by the DSNY tattoo on the front of his calf.
The show also features photographs, prints and video from DCLA Public Artist in Residence, sTo Len, and from DSNY artist-in-residence Mierle Laderman Ukeles.
There is also a selection of pieces from the Treasures in the Trash collection, curated by retired DSNY worker Nelson Molina. Between 1981 and 2015, Molina collected various items he found while on duty in Carnegie Hill and East Harlem. The items eventually became known as the “Museum of Trash,” housed in the second floor of Manhattan East Sanitation Garage Number 11 on the Upper East Side.
Eisenbach noted that a lot of people don’t consider the fact that civil servants have artistic ambitions as well (like the NYPD sketch artist who had a gallery opening a few years back).
“You’re taking a profession the place you are all the time serving the general public, I do know for myself, that generally in that capability, a few of your individual pursuits get sidetracked,” Eisenbach said. “However it’s undoubtedly good to see that some folks do not lose that, you recognize?”
He added that he hopes the work displayed in this gallery can inspire other DSNY workers and civil servants to explore or show off their abilities. “I hope that different workers who’ve these different hidden abilities that they may not essentially be too ahead with letting folks find out about, I hope that subsequent 12 months, they will be 30 or 40 reveals added to this present,” he said.
You can get more info on the exhibit here.