An Artist Transformed Nearly 9,000 Found Dime Bags Into Stunning Mosaics

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 8, 2017 3:11PM

Evidence of the tragic shortcomings of the U.S.'s "war on drugs," and how the drug trade mainlines right through Chicago, isn't difficult to spot—sometimes it's literally right under your feet.

That was the case for artist Ben Kurstin, who decided to start picking up and collecting the many discarded drug bags that he found on his walk through Humboldt Park for his daily work commute.

"I walked a half mile through the park to the bus to go to work everyday and, along the way I would collect the bags that I could see," Kurstin told Chicagoist via email. "I found bags that still contained weed, cocaine, heroin, pills, crack, and meth. As well as used needles and spoons with burnt undersides."

After nearly two years of accumulating those tiny, discarded remnants, he had more than 8,800 dime bags—which he channel into his practice.

Kurstin used those dime bags as found-art material to create a collection of mosaics, which also combine wood, spray paint and scans to fill out his eye-grabbing, mixed-media work. Without tumbling into the pedantic, his collages are implicitly political. The project "is about how the "War on Drugs" has been a failure, how programs like D.A.R.E., although well intentioned, have had the opposite effect as intended," Kurstin said. Mass incarceration, prompted by strict anti-drug legislation, is another suggested theme. The collection is "about the prison industrial complex, where nearly half those locked up today in both federal and state Prisons are there on drug charges."

You can sample a gallery of Kurstin's work above, including a large-scale Nixon reference and a Jasper Johns-reminiscent American flag piece. And you can see his work in person next month. He has a show opening at Casa Calle 20 (1538 W. Cullerton) of Friday, Oct. 6 (6 to 9 p.m.)