Sunday, 11 October 2009

17 Days

Well, our residency has come to an end. In 17 days, we have collected much rubbish and many friends. We love Newcastle and are sorry to leave, though we are looking forward to returning to our community, our garden and our chickens. To everybody we met, thank you for making us feel so welcome, and to everybody who followed our journey on this blog, thank you so much for your support.

But before we bid you adieu for now, we hope you enjoy this short film about our time here. Until next time, signing off, The Artist as Family.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Thirsty Work

Now that our Lock-Up exhibition has been and gone, today we relaxed somewhat. Meg and Zeph took to the streets on their bikes as sightseers and Patrick worked on the film.

The lady behind the counter of the kiosk at Newcastle Main Beach told us that the local council asked them not to sell any drinks in glass as they are likely to end up smashed and injuring someone. So instead they only sell plastic bottles that get left on the sand or placed into one of the many bins that go straight to landfill sites without being sorted. It's a lose-lose situation.

Today as we navigated the beaches and streets, we were very impressed at how many water bubblers we came across – a fantastic council initiative to encourage people to rehydrate without having to pay money for a disposable bottle.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Bins Full

We were in the Newcastle Herald today! Here is the photo that accompanied the article:

After breakfast, we donned latex gloves and began the task of sorting our accumulated waste: recyclable, non-recyclable, and organic matter.

We had set aside the weekend to disassemble our collection, though in 6 hours we had finished; the bins full, the exercise yard swept clean.

It was Zeph's job to gather and flatten all the cans. So after lunch, he and Patrick biked the 4 kilograms of aluminium to Hunter Recyclers where Zeph received $5 for his efforts (with which he bought a block of dark chocolate he generously shared with us elders).

Meanwhile, Meg was kicking back at the Loft Youth Venue, not far from the Lock-Up, where she gave a blogging workshop to a great group of students.

If you live locally and were planning to come down to see our show over the weekend, we're sorry, but the show is no longer. But stay tuned to these www's, as our short film about our residency will be screening here shortly.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


With three days left of our residency, our two main tasks are to process the waste we have gleaned in the best way we can, and to finish making the short creative documentary of our time here.

Here is a sneak peak from the film so far:

This afternoon, journalist Greg Ray and photographer Jonathan Carroll, from the Newcastle Herald came to the Lock-Up to interview us and photograph our expanding waste line. In the beginning of our stay, two and a half weeks in Newcastle seemed like a long time. Seeing all the rubbish we have collected through Jonathan's and Ray's eyes, we were able to see how much we had collected in a slightly objective way and we were filled with an aching regret that our culture's consumption leaves us with so much waste that can't be reused.

The Japanese call this mottainai, a term that Wikipedia defines as:
"...a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilised." The expression Mottainai! can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Going Backwards

From today's Age:
State's rubbish heap becoming a mountain
Recycling has gone backwards in Victoria for the first time this century, with an increase in organic waste being dumped into landfill, and mountains of glass sitting unprocessed at recycling plants.

While households are becoming more recycling conscious, the amount of some types of commercial and construction waste being re-processed has fallen sharply.

Recycling of organic rubbish - forestry waste, garden clippings and food - fell 20 per cent in 2007-08, according to a Victorian Recycling Industries survey. The drop was 14 per cent for glass and 4 per cent for construction and demolition waste.

The drop ends a decade of rapid growth for the recycling industry.

More organic waste in landfill poses a second problem - boosting greenhouse gas emissions. When massed in landfill it emits methane, a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Environment Victoria campaigner Fraser Brindley said recycling had been hit by two events: the financial crisis affecting demand for recycled goods and State Government policies not supplying the incentive to boost recycling.
The rest here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Never Mind

Our camera stopped working yesterday, a terrible thing to happen to a family of bloggers. This image is one of the last shots we took of our pile before it flipped out.

This morning we biked to a service centre from where we are hoping to hear good news. The technician we spoke to said she would do her best, though she was hesitant to say she could fix it, because it is six years old.

"Why spend money fixing an old camera when you can spend less getting a brand new model?" She asked. A valid question. If you are talking about the cost of things in dollars.

"Because we subscribe to the Repair Manifesto," we told her.

"I'm glad there are people like you," she smiled. "Otherwise I'd be out of a job."

As we left the service centre and pedalled towards the beach, we all agreed that that Repair should be added to the Reduce. Reuse. Recycle trinity. We can definitely see the merit of the first two actions, but the third? It's no wonder it features so far down the waste hierarchy:

When people choose to buy bottled water instead of soft drinks, the individual health benefits may be high, but the energy spent and pollution created to drink (or eat) anything from disposables has a great societal toll, regardless of what the vessel holds.

Every day as we bend to pick up forlorn plastic bottles on whichever beautiful beach we are on, we marvel at the complete lack of care exhibited by those who litter. But today on the beach, as we collected we talked about people, ourselves included, who buy packaged drink or food and then put the waste in a recycling or regular bin, thinking we've done the right thing.

Lest we feel too hopeful that we can properly process the waste we have collected over the last 12 days, here's Donovan Hohn to set us straight:
Never mind that only 5 percent of plastics actually end up getting recycled. Never mind that the plastics industry stamps those little triangles of chasing arrows into plastics for which no viable recycling method exists. Never mind that plastics consume about 400 million tons of oil and gas every year and that oil and gas may very well run out in the not too distant future. Never mind that so-called green plastics made of biochemicals require fossil fuels to produce and release greenhouse gases when they break down...

Monday, 5 October 2009

Our Artist Talk

We presented our artist talk today in front of a small and enthusiastic crowd of temporary jailbirds. Our talk was the last scheduled event on the Critical Animals line-up. If you are reading this blog for the first time today because you were handed our card by Zeph at our talk, welcome and thanks for coming along today.

If you couldn't make it to the Lock-Up today: our talk was about our project, waste, steady-state economics (in which economic activities fit within the capacity of ecosystems), permaculture, future scenarios, our Daylesford community and the Hepburn Relocalisation Network and our relationship with waste.

A big thanks goes to Gerry Bobsien from the Lock-Up for taking these photos and for her ongoing support. And likewise to Aden Rolfe, Co-Director of Critical Animals, for his enthusiasm for our project and for helping us pick up rubbish very early one morning.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Brrrm Brrrm

To get to Bar Beach, one of our regular rubbish collecting spots, we like to ride through the peaceful King Edward Park. But this morning the park and all the surrounding roads were closed for the Mattara Hill Climb motorcar race.

For the last 13 years, the general public has been denied access to Melbourne's Albert Park Lake for the Grand Prix. Doesn't it seem comically ironic that in this day and age, fossil fuel burning car races are still being sanctioned by local governments and their communities? In public parks??

When sea levels rise so that entire coastline settlements, such as Newcastle, are swallowed by the oceans, will the major sponsors of car races be held liable? When the Earth's increasing temperature renders large parts of our dry continent uninhabitable, will we hold our governments accountable? We can say the science was there, so why didn't they act? The science is murled by the media, so it's no wonder the public is confused as to the seriousness of the problem. But politicians are paid large sums to read the data and be informed, not by pro-business opinion writers but by non-commercial scientists.

From gleaning rubbish every day for the last 10 days we have a very clear picture of which major companies are responsible for the majority of the waste. Harsh authoritarian law-making is certainly problematic and unwanted, but isn't anything-goes-liberalism, where large corporates are allowed to profit by producing anti-ecological products and spectacles equally as troubling? Is a pro-ecological liberalism possible, where businesses have free range to do as they please as long as their activities remain embedded in an economic system based on the steady-state of a healthy ecology, not the fantasy of endless resources?

To what point will inaction be tolerated?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Free Wheelin'

TINA, the This is Not Art festival has started so Newcastle is abuzz with young folk keen to take part in some way. There are exhibitions, forums, artist talks, movies, music gigs, poetry readings, performance art and an exercise yard full of local trash collected over the last 9 days.

We two adults came up to Newcastle for TINA last year and it feels good to be back, this time with Zeph to share the experience. And our bikes. Last year we were on foot, but this year it's great to have our own wheels. Riding, stopping somewhere to pick up rubbish, then riding to our next destination.

It's so fun to ride around the city and wave at all the other cyclists on their Bike Library bikes, recognisable by their individual nameplates.

Friday, 2 October 2009

An Economy of Forgetting

"What’s most nefarious about plastic... is the way it invites fantasy, the way it pretends to deny the laws of matter, as if something — anything — could be made from nothing; the way it is intended to be thrown away but chemically engineered to last. By offering the false promise of disposability, of consumption without cost, it has helped create a culture of wasteful make-believe, an economy of forgetting."
Donovan Hohn, 'Moby-Duck: Or, the synthetic wilderness of childhood'

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Aesthetics of Waste

Spending this past week gleaning waste has made us realise that we are a society happy to dispose of rubbish readily because we have little relationship to it. At home we don't have a relationship with this sort of waste – we simply don't buy these kinds of products. We grow food, compost and bulk buy as much as we can. We haven't yet worked out how to do without plastic and other disposables altogether, but we're working on it.

Did you know that humans are the only land mammals who defecate in their drinking water? Instead of seeing our bodily waste as compost to be used to help fertilise our food and environment, we avoid dealing with it at all costs. Surely if we have no relationship to our own waste, we will find it difficult to have a relationship to any other.

As we pick up rubbish each day, we are trying to build a relationship with it. One of the best ways we do this is through narrative: we make up stories about the situation that led to the discarding of that broken sunglasses arm, the split boogie board, the rolled up nappy, the beer bottle.

There are other ways to tell stories with waste too. The local primary school where Zeph has been in attendance for the last four days had a Marble Run competition, where students constructed courses made from waste for marbles to travel along.

Here are some of the entries:

Aren't they great? The Marble Run is definitely one of the activities Zeph is excited to take back to his classmates at home.

Here is another example of creative recycling we have come across in Newcastle, from a shop of local designers called Make Space:

And then there are artists such as US-based David Edgar who uses recycled plastic to raise awareness about the ill health of our natural habitats.

Of course recycling our waste is better than just dumping it, but one of the potential problems of aestheticising it is glorifying its existence in the world. In the same way carbon offsetting has become just another way to justify a lack of environmental conscientiousness.

But we are guilty of that too. We flew to Newcastle because we figured the work we would do here justified our air travel. We are artists, therefore we are natural mediators. We have to remain aware of this. When we take a photo of our mounting waste at the end of each day, we are specific with our lighting and our camera angles, wanting to make the shot look as good as it can. Perhaps this is just another form of disconnection too? We are creating representations here. You can't smell the stench that is beginning to emanate from the exercise yard, online.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

How Did We Get Here?

It doesn't look like much, just a regular pile of beach flotsam that one would ordinarily walk right past. But when you spend all day at the beach looking down at such debris, you see the small aqua square of plastic, the cigarette butt and the top of the icy-pole stick. We could have chosen a photo containing far more waste but thought we'd use this one to give you an indication of the minutiae of so many of our minutes.

Although we still picked up the larger trash items today, we mainly concentrated on the small. Slowing down and focusing gave us time to contemplate and wonder and ask, How did we get here? How did we arrive at a place in our society that nearly every broken wave upon a beach contains some fragment, however small, of oil-based waste?

These questions make us think about this book, that we adults were both read as kids. We bought it for Zeph a few days ago in an op shop, for him to find on our shelves when he becomes more curious.

The questions we asked ourselves today both started and ended with these foodstuffs, gifted to us by Gerry, the Director of the Lock-Up and the co-keeper of the soil and chickens from whence these goods did come. We are missing our garden and our hens so these gifts are much appreciated.

To help us answer the question of how our culture got so tangled up in this anthropocentric mess we looked to the walls of the Lock-Up's exercise yard for some answers.

Each marking tells a story of circumstance and place, that is rich with history and individual misfortune, but doesn't quite answer our question as specifically or collectively as we'd hoped.

Our search continues.