Waste

At the end of February I spent some time with Tom. We cycled to Newhaven and tried to see if someone would show us around the new incinerator. They wouldn’t. We recorded the continuous stream of lorries and skips bringing all our waste. The scrap metal yard, the aggregate heaps, the mountains of car and tyres and random junk. The road was littered with debris. It felt like another part of the world. I collected a dismembered arm from a doll. I wondered what the rest of the doll looked like and whose doll it had been and why it was thrown away – who no longer wanted it?

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I keep coming back to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Particularly the fragment, Continuous Cities about waste. He conjures such a vivid world of these spreading, sprawling, spilling metropolis’ surrounded by bands of waste. Piling higher and higher, meeting the mountain ranges of other cities. Awaiting landslide and catastrophe. The more we have, the more we discard. What if we get interested in all that forgotten, unwanted stuff? What are the speculative stories of all the discarded stuff? We live on a geology of waste. What if this is a fascinating place?! 

It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia’s opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday’s existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia’s talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of the indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.

This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday’s sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.

Leonia’s rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crest of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves. Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia’s boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.”

Today’s sweepings on top of yesterday’s and all of the previous yesterdays and days and days. A new geology of rotting, stinking history. Increasingly indestructible, squashed together the stories of all that we no longer want. The old, the broken, the soiled, unsexy, spoilt.

As I watched Kip and Kirsty and Petra working to build structures during our week in early March at Laughton Lodge near Lewes in Sussex, it occurred to me that through this project we’re building our own city. We have been looking at ways of constructing things, moving through, over and under. Pulling them down and traversing the debris. Clearing new space and rebuilding. Building, destroying, re-organising, building again. It’s an incredibly powerful and tense sensation to pull down something you’ve just built.

Despite a relatively small space and small timescale, it was palpable how quickly we could gather a feeling of accumulation of things growing and spreading. We started to build reflections of the spill of the city and how it keeps on expanding, reaching, and leaning. Homes. places to meet, drink coffee, eat, sweat, purchase. 

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And so I find myself left considering, what might have happened here 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What did it look like? Trees exchanged for concrete, wild activity replaced by human activity. Productivity. Futures. Making, busying. Now gone. abandoned. If we leave it long enough where will the trees grow? How long will they take? How many people will pass over?

fragments, traces, foot prints, memories.

How many people have loved? Died? Endured? Where is our resilience?

We’re building
living
occupying
protesting
watching
wondering
enduring
destroying
clambering
clearing
cleansing
listening
being here today with you
Imagining
Re-imagining
will you imagine with us?

We need visionaries.

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