Our Desires Fail Us

Sean Martindale and JP King

June 23–December 23, 2018


In a series confronting our disconnected relationship with the vast amount of waste generated by consumer culture, JP King and Sean Martindale share large-format photographs shot within waste management facilities across the GTA.

The photos are mirrored, and like inkblots, can be viewed as a form of Rorschach test. The eye, naturally attracted to symmetry, experiences the phenomenon of pareidolia as we have a psychological tendency to see faces, creatures, and other patterns – forms both terrifying and alluring – in reflected images. On closer inspection however, the beauty we see in the echoed forms clashes with the abject detail and realities of the waste itself.

Waste is often perceived as filthy, chaotic, and disgusting; our culture goes to great lengths to separate itself from the refuse it produces every day. As we systematically hide this reality, we collectively create a dark mirror reflecting the failure of our desires, progress, and priorities. We must better understand our current situation and collective behaviour if we are to change it. This body of work offers a rare inside look at Toronto’s waste streams.

While these complex images may look like digital renderings or composite creations, they are each single, mirrored photographs of the municipal waste stream. The detritus documented was not arranged or adjusted to compose the images, and the central mirror line of each is the uncropped, unmodified edge of the original photo. The only exception is the full wall panorama image that was created by stitching together a series of sequential photographs.

Supported by
City of Toronto, Solid Waste Management Services


Our Desires Fail Us continues the exploration Sean Martindale and JP King first unveiled in the streets of Paris, France, during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP 21 / CMP 11, as part of Brandalism Paris, where bus stop advertisements were replaced with artworks that critically engaged social and environmental issues. That same year, Martindale created There Is No Away, an award-winning major extended project for Nuit Blanche Toronto, installed outside City Hall and supported by Solid Waste Management Services. King collaborated with Martindale to create multi-screen video elements of the installation, and shortly after, the single-channel short film, Solid Waste. Our Desires Fail Us results from their continued examinations of waste culture. Martindale and King are the first Artists-in-Residence with the City of Toronto, Solid Waste Management Services, and this project marks the launch of the pilot AIR program.

Sean Martindale is Harbourfront Centre’s inaugural Visual Artist-in-Residence in association with BRAVE: the Festival of Risk and Failure. Often using salvaged materials in his work, his acclaimed interdisciplinary practice is closely connected to the politics of public space. Look out for more of Martindale’s projects, both old and new, installed around the Harbourfront Centre’s campus this year.


JP King is an interdisciplinary artist, entrepreneur, designer and educator. Nominated for a Governor General’s Innovation Award, his visual research examines how we relate to what we get rid of and the ways in which the creation of waste shapes culture.