Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2023

Department 1



In a post-industrial society, Americans have to grapple with the result of seemingly endless production: trash. The amount of trash produced every day is a rising threat to the planet and its inhabitants; every decision made for the future must also take into account waste, rubbish, and refuse that will never break down or be fully removed from our waterways. Some artists, such as contemporary artist Duke Riley, have embraced the use of trash in their art as a critique of capitalism and consumerism. One of his most notable works is the Poly S. Tyrene Memorial Maritime Museum series, a collection of scrimshaw made from discarded plastic found in local waterways. This project analyzes the connection that Riley is drawing between scrimshaw, a product of the whaling industry, with the environmental overconsumption and destruction currently present in a post-industrial American society. He also links together the labor exploitation experienced by whalers and the exploitation we experience now as influential politicians and CEOs deny the impact of pollution on our environment. Another aspect of Riley’s work that this project highlights is the concept of trash as an archive. As a material that can take hundreds of years to decompose, plastic will serve as a physical memory of the human experience for centuries. Riley takes plastic trash and frames it in the context of the fictional Poly S. Tyrene Memorial Maritime Museum, creating an archive that serves as a historical narrative of our current culture of production and consumption. This fictional museum is then legitimized by placing the works in real museum to be preserved, admired, and learned from.


Written for ARTH 400: Seminar in Art History.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.