Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cultural Refuse: Accumulating Habitat

The site of the Gas Works Park structure was chosen for its proximity to Seattle as well as its historical significance as a gasoline processing plant. The park land and lake shore have a reputation for contaminated soil and ground water. Fifty years after the gasification plant closed, tar still oozes from beneath the ground.

It is an unconventional park with an outstanding view of the city’s skyline. It is a nice place to fly kites, or where teenagers can get drunk, visitors can drink and litter lattes, or where the homeless can find temporary shelter.

We built a structure from discarded materials found within the park. The skeleton of the structure consists of three palates (one which was partially burned for fire wood by a homeless man), and a large piece of cardboard which serves as a roof.

Garbage that was collected from around the site was jammed in the wedges of the palates and provided insulation for the finished structure. It was impossible not to notice while working at the Gas Works site how most of the insulating products like the plastic cups and wrappers were just a few of the many petroleum byproducts that are common single-use objects in our everyday lives.

The exterior of the structure is swathed in excess garbage; mostly empty beer cans and coffee cups. The interior includes two milk crates filled with the recyclables we found, as well as a rusted, found garbage can lid.

The shelter constructs a visual link between society’s excessive accumulation of commoditized comforts (=shelf life products), with the comfort/amenity of shelter that the structure provides.

As the market expands, more land is required to produce and sale more and more goods, and to accommodate the accumulation of waste. The structure, like Gas Works Park, is made from remnants of this crisis.

Gas Works Park is a reclaimed space for the public, but the evidence of how capitalism is continually transforming our urban landscape is still obvious. The 50-year-old contamination at the Gas Works site, in addition to the current accumulation of garbage is a visual timeline of the lasting consequence of a market based society.

In a capitalist economy that is driven by expansion, over accumulation is not only visually apparent in the landfills and litter around our cities, but also in our parks and recreational spaces.

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