Street Value

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”


In exploring the subjects of utopia, altruism and gift in relation to contemporary economic structures we have derived an evolving series of projects and experiments to conduct within the context of value and valuation.

In this study our attention has been drawn to the “waste objects” of the capitalistic, overconsumption society as manifested here in Amsterdam.  Trash, garbage, vuilnes; call them what you will, they are the set of material goods that have been given a final value judgment and deemed no longer useful or necessary.  Placed on the street during designated hours for scheduled pick up, the only sure prospect is that, if left, these objects will be removed and destroyed.  However from the time they are discarded to the time they are removed from the street there exists an opportunity for “re-valuation”.  This re-valuation is contingent upon three observed levels of trash:

  1. Simple discard: objects that have become valueless to the owner placed on the street haphazardly for removal by the municipality.
  2. Opportunistic discard: objects that have become valueless to the owner placed on the street with the interest of availability to the scavenger.
  3. Explicit discard: objects that have become valueless to the owner placed on the street after intentional removal of (remaining) functional capacity.

Starting at this window of opportunity we developed our experiments.  Our initial step came in the form of a simple intervention:  organizing objects left for trash removal into miniature markets and distinguishing each object with a sticker bearing an arbitrary price.  How does the pedestrian react to this arrangement?  The set up is reminiscent of the nearby daily market, but the surreal environment outside of such a regulated setting is provocative.  What are the regulations around such a setting in a country with no free market system?  Could these articles be or have been for sale?  The stickers are fresh and if one found an article of value to him, could he take it with him and leave the specified amount in the box marked “geld”?  Could one just take the article with out exchange?  Could one take the box marked “geld”?  What is value? What is honor? What is exchange? What are the rules?

This project was repeated and discussed leading to the development of a more focused and intentional experiment, our second intervention.

In this experiment, we explored the discarded objects remaining after the closing of the IJhallen second-hand market as well as the objects discarded on the streets of Amsterdam on a Sunday night.  During this exploration each member of our group curated or chose certain objects and created a collection based on personal value judgments or on interpretations of the value questions we were asking.  These objects were organized, marked, catalogued and photographed.

The following day we installed our collection on the edge of the Waterlooplein marketplace and offered the goods to the public for free.  Each item was carefully displayed and marked with a sticker identifying it as free of charge.  For several hours we remained installed at the Waterlooplein.  Pedestrians and merchants engaged us.  We even spoke with a representative from the municipality.  People came and observed and several chose articles to take away with them.  Whenever possible all aspects of the intervention were documented.  Through this experimentation and documentation and along with on going discussion several poignant questions have surfaced that are guiding us along a route towards an alternative or, perhaps better put, parallel system of consumption.

Where does value come from? This question is situated at the center of our experiment and informs our understanding of the experience.  To explore this, we must consider the value history of an object.  When we arrive at a pile of discarded goods we come into the story of these objects at a very important stage: the end of value.  After you have offered something to your friends and relatives, after you considered donation to Emmaus or the Salvation Army you put your possession out of your home committed in some way to its destruction or perhaps just complacent about its future.  This object no longer has value to you the owner.
Value is subjective.  Can we use this subjectivity to undermine the system that capitalism imposes?  A great deal of our consumption is affected by the concept of obsolescence.  Within this concept an object becomes obsolete when it breaks or is succeeded by other versions, Planned and Perceived Obsolescence respectively.  These concepts contrive the subjectivity of value and guide the consumer towards a disposable economy, a model that feeds capitalism.
We are all amazed at how much stuff is placed on the streets during garbage night.  When we intervene in this chapter of the life of an object we have the opportunity to start a new story.  To return an object to the story of use and consumption is not a novel idea.  Where does the stuff we see on the second hand market come from?  How many of us have, in our home, something we found on the street.  Can we offer scavenging to a larger public? What role does the buying of scavenged goods play in the capitalist system?  Can we distance ourselves from this system, from the rules of commerce and exchange?
The act of gathering implies choice and effort.  In this way we intervene in the value history of our collection by curating them, or rather pulling them out of the trash.  Can this act result in the “re-valuing” of an object; can it result in increased value?  The concepts of appreciation and depreciation come to mind.  Some objects depreciate in value over time as we have thus far indicated.  Also, some objects appreciate in value over time due to several factors.  Can the act of appreciating the qualities of an object cause an appreciation in value?  Does a durty object in a dumpster become worth more if I wipe it off and put it on a shelf?  Does a a set of glasses have more appeal to you if it costs 2 Euro instead of twelve?  What is the difference between the price of an object and its value?  How do we evaluate value?
You need a screwdriver.   You see one lying in the garbage. The handle is intact, the metal is not rusty, the head looks nearly new.  You pick it up and put it in your pocket…you feel like you just put ten euros in your pocket…ok maybe two if you would buy one on the second hand market.  You just obtained a screwdriver for free.  FREE.  How does this entire subject change when you emphasize this word free?
How does the value equation change with this added variable?  Is it worth more to you? Is it more appealing to you?  Would you be more easily satisfied with a rug if it were free?
By offering our collection for free we exit the market economy. We affect the definition of value.  We challenge the capitalistic system by existing parallel to it.  We free ourselves and our public from the restraints of the controlled market.  We have generated a curious discourse.

In exiting the market system we turn the focus away from exchange and in the direction of the gift.  What role does exchange play now? Exchange must remain on some level or the source of gifts would dry up.
We affect the definition of value by not ascribing an exchange value to an object we deem worthy.  Here lies an interesting contradiction: how can something be valuable if it costs nothing?  What costs need to be considered with regard to the found object?
Can we affect the value of articles within the capitalist exchange system by existing parallel to it?  If a gift economy can exist parallel to a capitalist economy it can raise the level of awareness regarding consumption and begin to affect our value and acquisition decisions.
What is “Street Value’s” relationship to the market economy?  What is our relationship to the controlled market system of Amsterdam?  Do we undermine these systems?  Is this a form of [bank] robbery?  In proximity to the Waterlooplein market these and more questions arise. It is unclear whether the act of scavenging is within or excluded by law.  At what point does trash leave the possession of the disposer and become the possession of the municipality?  Is our acquisition through scavenging legal?  What value does the city give to these articles? In Holland there is no free market (except on Queen’s Day and Liberation Day) thus all commerce exists within a controlled system that regulates exchange through permitting and taxation.  When taken to the market and sold they become taxable.  If we give them away then we receive no monetary benefit thus they are not taxable.  Our “Free Market” exists outside of legal reign and thus there seemed to be no grounds for regulation or expulsion from the Waterlooplein  based on our actions.  We, even on a small scale, challenge the capitalistic system at large and the secondary market more directly.  To our knowledge our actions are within legal boundaries.

What are the rules?  What are the rules for placing trash on the streets?  What are the rules for taking trash from the streets?  What are the rules for selling found items?  What are the rules for giving things away?
It is within this myriad of questions that we established the conceptual motivation for our project and from which we derived a methodology.  The project has been described above, however we took liberties as designer/artists to embellish or act creatively to emphasize certain aspects and offer an opportunity for material production.  The collecting of objects is referred to several times as curation.  It is within this context that we emphasize our choices as individuals involved with the conceptual understanding and definition of objects and materials.  Our curation was based on the notion that we have made and will continue to make informed decisions behind the objects that become part of our collection and to establish the group of objects as a collection indicative of our point of view. It is to this end that we chose a logo by which we can identify all our objects as part of the project and produced a system of cataloguing to refer to the subsets of items that will develop in the continuation of this project.

The terms collection and catalogue are used intentionally here.  The collection refers to the idea of a design collection or a collection of artifacts that would be assembled under a unified theme or concept.  And the term “catalogue” makes reference to the production of an archive of the project.  Each piece was branded or engraved with the logo and reference number to ensure a certain permanence of inclusion and to indicate our involvement in developing this gift economy. (Perhaps narcissistic) We then photographed each piece in order to produce a visual record, a catalogue that is available online at:

We plan to continue the experimenting with this project and producing more collections of objects, complete with catalogue.  And, in order to further the awareness about and the development of a parallel gift economy we are developing an app for smart phones that will promote the efficiency of scavenging.  This app, called TreasureMapp will create a platform through which altruistic scavengers can reach out to those in need in order to expand the benefit from the range of objects available in the trash.  Individuals registered and using the TreasureMapp will be able to post images of found objects. These images will be incorporated into a GIS system like googlemaps through which the location of the object and the time it was seen can be associated.  People will be able to search this database in real-time or receive email notifications for objects that they desire.  Developing the interface and usability of the app requires exploration of feedback and exchange systems to enhance efficency and limit abuse of the system.

Lastly, in a social or sociological context the experience of realizing this project was a gratifying and educational one.  From our amazement at what we collected to energy behind our interactions with the range of individuals we came into contact with this project was enlightening.  With such energy as provocation it is easy to imagine encouraging this structure and establishing a self-generating system.  What is the value of altruism? Maybe one more minute in paradise.