For Elevate 2014, an annual pop-up festival sponsored by the city of Atlanta, the Goat Farm Arts Center, a “creative industrial complex” that produces vanguard arts programming, conceived the D_MPSTERS program. They acquired 10 large roll-a-way trash containers, parked them on underused downtown streets, and curated a weeklong exhibition within them. Second Story, part of SapientNitro, was responsible for activating one of the dumpsters based on Elevate’s central theme: Social City.
The Second Story team wanted the experience to be accessible to all visitors to Atlanta’s Fairlie-Poplar neighborhood and available for use both during the day and at night. Considering the theme, the team analyzed the current social media landscape. Navigating it often means spending more time with our devices than with each other. Who hasn't wondered if the rushing stream of ephemeral posts is leading us toward an island of social isolation rather than a true community of friends?
#Trashtag explored a radical new interface for social messaging. We filled our dumpster with more than 100 illuminated magnetic boxes inscribed with words and emoji and beckoned the public into the installation with a phrase: “LET’S TALK.” Everyone was invited to participate, arranging and rearranging the blocks to create messages of their own on the walls of the container. Strangers laughed together as they discovered accidental phrases in the piles of discarded words, and they disrupted each other’s work, playfully fighting over coveted terms and symbols. Social media became something new—a collective act undertaken together in physical space.
But the dumpster did more than just collect these messages—it amplified them. Participants could compose their message on a special frame and press an oversized button to have the dumpster tweet their phrase through its personal Twitter feed (@TrashtagATL). As the container’s interior served as an interactive canvas, its “persona” acted as a mouthpiece for the conversations taking place within its walls.
With the dumpster as a symbol of both disposability and transformation, the installation outlined a social media landscape where sentiments could be tossed out and discarded as quickly as the pieces could be salvaged to create something new. The container served as a public creative space on a historic downtown street, an unexpected forum for self-expression.
In the end, the #Trashtag dumpster tweeted more than 200 messages. The posts were surprising and inspiring, at times hopeful, critical, funny, and profound—a perfect reflection of the diversity of participants.
The public also littered the social media landscape with tagged Instagram photos, Facebook posts, retweets, and direct messages of their own. This digital chatter amplified the creative acts that took place in real time and space within the dumpster, enhancing awareness of the Goat Farm's exhibition and #Trashtag’s part in it.
The D_MPSTERS installation at large brought unprecedented attention to the Goat Farm. The City of Atlanta estimated that more than 14,000 people experienced the exhibition during its run, a number vastly exceeding the organization’s annual visitorship, and the program received more unique media hits than any event in the Goat Farm’s history.
Second Story, part of SapientNitro
“How refreshing to see great design thrown in a dumpster! This is smart on several levels: getting great visibility out of a cheap space and low-cost materials, but also using a dumpster to talk about our throwaway messaging habits. This is a really fresh idea that would be almost impossible to pass by without engaging with it in some way. To me this should be an inspiration to student designers, as it shows how you can do a lot with a small budget and a good idea.”
“A very playful and engaging public intervention that presents a poignant comment about the disposability of today’s social mediasphere. The project is executed in an irreverent yet sophisticated way and promotes direct social interaction among the participants.”
“Fabulous concept with engaging interactivity that in many ways transforms a solitary act into a communal experience.”