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Sean Connaughty's latest project is a trippy anti-littering video

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Artist Sean Connaughty is serious about trash. A resident of south Minneapolis, he and his friends have collected 150 large garbage bags full of debris weighing a total of about 1.5 tons from Lake Hiawatha. The area doesn’t have a robust system for stopping debris from coming into the lake from the city’s sewer system.

Connaughty has been a vocal advocate for improvements. In the meantime, he’s bringing his message straight to the people of the Twin Cities to get them to change their littering ways.

This Friday, Connaughty launches a large-scale video project that will screen at 17 different locations in Minneapolis and outside the Twin Cities. 

“There are so many people littering,” Connaughty says. “I was thinking about how to impact these people. I thought of a public service announcement as a way to reach a broad audience.”

Connaughty worked on the video this summer. In the piece, Connaughty wears a large “everyman” mask. “I’m definitely not an actor but it’s easier behind the mask,” he says. The giant head was made with his students in a class at St. Cloud State University, where he teaches.

Connaughty’s character spends the first part of the video throwing garbage willy nilly, with no regard to where it ends up. Eventually, the character comes to discover how the trash he threw out ended up in the lake, and he has a moment of revelation where it’s clear he is set to change his ways.

While the video has a very direct message, Connaughty manages to bring some humor and levity to the work. The piece is supplemented with footage Connaughty has taken over the past couple of years, including gathering trash for his “Anthropocenic Midden Survey,” a gallery show where he displayed trash as if anthropologists of the future were looking at remnants from a past civilization.

For the screenings, there are exhibition spaces onboard, such as Gamut Gallery, the Weisman Art Museum, and Instinct Gallery (whose director, John Schuerman, is a main partner in the outreach effort). Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Made Here Project is also involved, and other local businesses will screen the seven-minute PSA in an effort to get the word out about why littering is so awful for our local waters.

Even the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which Connaughty has harshly criticized for the state of the water in the area, is going to host a screening at Lake Hiawatha Recreation Center. “It was cool they agreed to play this,” Connaughty says. They have currently put in a temporary system of mitigation. “There’s a long-term solution in the planning that’s dependent on what they do with the golf course,” he says.

You can check out the video below, or see it while out and about this weekend.