POLYMER COLONY

This work was created in collaboration with Francois Knoetze.

 

In a world with rapidly growing energy needs, with conventional fossil fuel energy fast moving towards extinction as well as contributing generously to global warming, the need to innovate around alternative energy sources has become crucial. We would like to create work which explores the current energy crisis in South Africa in relation to the country’s reliance on fossil fuels such as coal. We would like to explore the country’s need to diversify its energy mix, looking specifically at the potential of waste to-energy initiatives to be applied to urban waste streams, as well as looking at small scale operations implementable in rural areas.

 

In South Africa, landfill has historically been the default approach for waste management. Turning waste into energy helps to minimize the amount of waste sent to landfills. Despite efforts by both municipalities and the private sector, the extent of application of the waste hierarchy (prevent, reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, landfill) is limited and much of the potentially usable material produced still ends up in landfill. Waste is also something which I see as a politically charged material. With few exceptions, the burden of the global culture of excess and ‘disposability’ is dumped on the poor and marginalised working classes, who are forced to live in areas of ecological degradation due to improper waste management. In Cape Town, more than half of the 895,000 tonnes per year of domestic waste comes from a tiny minority of high income households, all of which goes to rubbish dumps located in poor neighbourhoods on the Cape Flats where people produce far less waste, much of which is not even collected.

 

By sculpturally appropriating objects deemed useless, obsolete or out of date, into performative enactment – a form that itself originates and disappears within the fleeting present – the work aims to re-dramatise what Zygmunt Bauman terms the ‘steadily shortening distance between the fragrance of novelty and the odour of the rubbish bin’. The acceleration of this willingness to discard unwanted matter is mirrored, in the hurriedness with which human beings are rendered waste in South Africa by the interface of racism and capitalism. Apartheid’s residual boundaries of socio-spatial exclusion between a populace treated as surplus and an affluent consumer class remain highly visible and geographically defined in Cape Town.

 

The project’s aim would be to partake in the redefinition of waste as something which is not dirty or dangerous, but rather as a resource - something which is inextricably linked to the lives of people and which has inherent value in the powerful scope its amorphousness allows for re-organisation and adaptation. Garbage, like death and excrement, is a great social leveller. In social terms, it is a truth-teller. The garbage dump is a critical vantage point from which to view society as a whole. It is a site of the promiscuous mingling of rich and poor, center and periphery, the industrial and the artisanal, the domestic and the public, the durable and the transient, the organic and the inorganic, the national and the international, the local and the global.

Polymer Colony was commissioned and recognised as the overall winner of the PUNCTURE POINTS interdisciplinary art project that explores the intersection of energy and everyday life at the Western Cape, South Africa.