Tocar el suelo. To touch the ground. When I find an object on the street or at the dump, they are touching the ground. When I bend down to choose it, the object’s subjective value is raised. Giving it new relations with other found objects does nothing to alter its plastic atomic form, yet conceptually it changes. I am staging an intervention with the object’s potential for a new possible future. Small moments like this invoke wonder- how many hands does something shift through to affirm its value? How many relationships does it take to affirm the value of an object or an idea for it to shift larger societal values? How are these values manifested in the objects we place in public space?
Our conceptual values and stories are manifested in physicality. The discarded objects I collected in public space hold stories from everyday life, and the lack of value given to them is apparent in their abandoned state. In the same way these objects hold stories, so do monuments erected by the state in public space. These monuments carry the narratives of history and cultural identity that have been deemed worthy to hold on to. Though public monuments all over the globe might be particular to geographic location, I wonder about our ‘monuments to the everyday’, looking more and more similar to each other in this age of globalization. If we were to take a geologic slice of earth from the anthropocene, some of these plastic objects might still be present. In the same way I am reclaiming these objects and creating new possible relations between them, how do we rework stagnant historical and cultural narratives nowadays, and also shed light on those narratives that have been discarded under the influence of Western imperialism? As cities increasingly become centers of globalization, how do we rework our relationship to the nation-state? Like the plastic objects, we cannot discard our past, yet it must be reworked. How do we see spaces and relations of possibility in this shifting, nomadic age, especially in the context of rising nationalism and our shared environmental future?
As I walked around collecting objects in public space, I also thought about how public space can be a tool to subconsciously infiltrate chosen historical narratives. Monuments hold up certain histories, while other ones are discarded like the objects I was collecting. Visual cues subconsciously reinforce certain concepts, like the use of the “Rosa Mexicano”” paint color for the city’s branding. I chose to use this color on my objects. Chosen histories and branding can also influence cultural norms and the way that a body can feel in public space. As I collected more and more objects, my bag became more cumbersome. I was carrying around the weight of the object’s past on my body through the streets. This brought to mind the work of Jana Sterbak who often related objects to the body. She said, “In a lot of my work one has to decide whether one is the controlling agent or being controlled, and to decide what are the pros and cons of both situations" (Jana Sterbak: States of Being. Diana Nemiroff 1991). The same decisions need to made about the pros and cons of identifying with the current narratives shaping our everyday environments.
The new relations I am making between collected objects do not represent clear answers for our collective future. Instead, they embody open-ended questions in their new states. They are monuments to newness, possibility, and a reworking of past states of being in the context of a shifting urban world.
Tocar el suelo: Walk
The trash truck is carefully parked in the small parking spot at the dump. Loading time. I squeeze myself between the truck and the trash piles lining the wall to try and talk with the workers.
“Hola! Como estas? Podria tener algo basura?” They look at me, confused.
“No entiendo”. No smiles. I point to the trash.
“Quiero.” I try to find words... “quiero basura para hacer esculturas.”
There seems to be more understanding, and the man points to the pile. I dig and find glow sticks, a bird cage, a red tube, and parts
of a metal chair. I pull out a deflated soccer ball that is wedged between the cab of the truck and the dumpster. I spot a bucket and a colander between the larger pile and the wall. I precariously place my foot on a chair and heft myself up, jumping over in between the pile and the wall. I claim mis objetos. I place the objects in my cart.
“Muchas gracias!” I wave and roll away.
I set my destination for a recycling center on iphone maps, one hour away. Hace calor. My boots feel supportive as I step on the concrete.
I follow the blue dot and arrows on my iphone to place my steps. I am hungry already and stop to eat a taco. Food vendors line the public space, and people gather. A woman selling her woven baskets is setting up her area.
Mi caminar leads me to a street with a tall glass building overhead. In the curated sidewalk garden bed, there is a broken broom handle, an orange stick, its orange color vibrating against the dirt bed it is laying in. I quickly decide it will come with me. I take a screenshot of where the blue dot is. It is where I am, and where the orange object is.
Follow the blue line, look, look, look. A milk carton in between tall grasses. Caution tape furled around itself in the broken sidewalk pieces. A piece of garden hose at the base of a tree.
I arrive at a corner and I notice a man picking up trash from a store in large square 4x4 foot box. Inside, there is an interesting curvy metal structure placed on top of the pile. Maybe it used to be the bottom of a table. I stare at it and deliberate. Will this be too hard to carry for the rest of the day? Should I get an uber to carry it back and continue el caminar later? I realize there is a man and two teenagers staring at me in my deliberation stance.
“Hola” They do not avert their gaze, so I walk over.
“Como estas? Collectar objetos para arte.”
They seem to understand a little and I wonder what I am actually saying. We exchange smiles.
I point to the man collecting and the object, hoping it will communicate whether I can take it or not. Our communication breaks down and I decide to keep walking.
I walk further and find an empty gasoline can with a crack in it . It has two holes for nozzles on either side. It is too large to fit inside my small plastic bag. I think on the object, and decide to keep walking.
Two hours of walking. I reach the destination of the recycling center, but it is closed. No blue dot destination, but many objetos. A farmers market is bustling. A pink woven vegetable bag is strewn on the sidewalk behind two women cooking huarache. I stop and eye it. They eye me.
“Hola!” I point to the bag and then to myself. They nod.
I now have another find, and an easier way to carry everything I have collected so far.
My pink bag grows. I carry its weight slung over my shoulder. The people I meet eyes with on the sidewalk or sitting in cafes all have the same look on their face: non registration. I wonder if it is the look of not being able to classify my activity, no reference. The cracked gasoline can is still on my mind, so I decide to make my way back to Bucarelli and hope it is still there.
I am tired and my boots are rubbing my ankles in the wrong places. I try to find the most comfortable way to hold my bag of objects. I readjust every half block or so. I stop at a hip cafe to drink a beer and eat a salad. I am very dirty compared to other customers, and my bag of objetos sits next to me on the ground, too big to fit under the table.
My phone dies, and I no longer have a blue line to follow back. The places where I found my collection become points on a mental map, allowing me to retrace my steps. Every time I notice a spot where the object no longer is, I feel relief. Moments of affirmation that my walk is headed in the right direction.
I find my way back to Bucareli. The gasoline can! It is still here! My intention of returning to this object has made it more valuable to me. Un objeto entranable. It, too, acts as a blue dot marker bringing me closer to the studio.
Almost back. Cuatro horas. I see a large trash pile with umbrellas sticking out of it against a bright blue building. I walk down the side street with anticipation. Two small dogs emerge from the pile and furiously bark at me. I am relieved they are tied up. I abandon the umbrellas, but question whether I could have reached them without getting bit. “Don’t be stupid,” I tell myself, and keep walking.
Day 4: Regreso. I take my cart and turn the corner around the studio to return to the dump. I stop to speak with the man who sells fruit everyday on the corner. “Hola! Como estas?”
“Bien! Buenos dias”
“Soy Lydia, como te llamas?”
“Luis.” “Buen dia!”
The workers no longer have looks of confusion upon my arrival.
“Hola! Buenos dias!”
The oldest man there smiles at me and does a ‘shooing’ motion with his hand towards the largest pile. It is a motion of permission. I give a thumbs up.
I yank a hula hoop out from underneath a pile of debris. I place my foot on the base of the pile to steady myself. I stand with my hands on my hips looking around for what objetos will come with me. The workers keep shoveling trash. I am in their space and stay out of their work flow.
“Soy Lydia. Te llamas?”
The workers tell me their names. Juan, Marcos, and a man whose name I didn’t catch. I point to the piles.
I pick up a shiny metal object made up of concentric circles, all attached somehow. The circles intersect and become different shapes as I move it. I hold it up to Juan. He points to the man sitting to the side of the piles, who seems to be just hanging out. He makes a motion that lets me know the object belongs to him. I hand it over, and he holds it up to the light. We admire it together. “Que bueno!”
I find a dust pan, another colander, a circle of wires. The worker whose name I didn’t catch pulls a distorted coat hanger out of the pile he is sorting, and looks at me with his arm outstretched.
“Que bueno! Ayudas con mi arte! Gracias!”
He smiles at me and I receive the object from him.
I look around some more. The worker whose name I didn’t catch finds three more coat hangers. Luis pulls a framed diploma out of the pile he is sorting and offers it to me. We inspect it together and laugh as he hands it to me. The objeto es gracioso.
I find two pairs of blue rubber work pants with reflective flashing on them, dirty but like new. I hold them up to everyone “Quieres?”
The old man gives me the shooing motion again. I hold the far-too-big-for-me pants up to my body and look up to everyone, and then down again, asking if they look ok with my body language. We all laugh.
My cart is full.
“Buen dia! Muchas gracias! Regresar!” Everyone waves goodbye.
The man whose name I didn’t catch is David.
Antonia told me it was customary to bring Coke as a thank you for someone’s help, so I bring two liters of Coke and some neon colored cups with me in my cart. I place the Coke on the chair I used two days earlier to hoist me over the pile. “Hola! Buenos dias! Para ti,” I say to David. He smiles and says something I don’t understand.
Juan arrives and I point to the Coke, “Para ti!” He pulls out a bottle from his pocket, “Tequila!” I make a mixing motion with my hands. We laugh together and I notice his toothy grin and the way his arm hangs in a sling.
I find an old clock, wires, a black boot, and old Christmas ornaments amongst the citrus rinds that have been juiced.
David is shuffling around in the room that I assume to be the office. He beckons me over with his hand, the opposite of the shooing motion. He holds out a bottle opener and a brass pendant that both say ‘PERU’ on them. “Ah! Muchas gracias! Que bueno!” He classified these as something I would want. They quickly become sentimental objects to me as I inspect them next to the trash pile. I point to the dog at David’s feet. “Tu perro?” “Si, Daisy.” Daisy looks up at me like she is also trying to understand why I am there. David smiles to himself as he continues to sort through the small pile of trinkets on his desk. “So cute!”
I find a collection of old X-rays, and I hold them up to the light. “Look!” Juan looks at them with me, and he points to his shoulder. He speaks so fast that I can’t keep up, but I make out the word “duele.” He makes motions and winces his face, acting out his shoulder being dislocated and then put back in. The story goes on for a while and I nod my head with a concerned look, “Ah, si duele.” He pulls out the tequila again and points to his shoulder, “Ahhhh entiendo, tequila porque duele!” I understand now.
David jumps down from the office. “De donde eres?”
“Dime tu nombre otra vez?”
We all stand in semi circle and I try to describe what I’m doing in my ramshackled Spanish.
“Estoy aqui para un mes. Hacer arte en el studio cerca de aqui. Hacer arte con objetos” I point to the piles. “Ahh si.” Looks of curiosity turn into understanding and I feel a shift in comfortability within the semi circle. “Agraciendo!” I motion to them and the objects. David says something I don’t understand.
“Regresar. Buen dia!!” “Igual!”
Day 6: Juan is still drinking tequila. I spot an orange silla with paint splatters on it underneath multiple bags of trash. I try to tug it out, but it is really wedged in there. I pull and pull, and consider whether the whole trash bag wall will collapse if I actually do get it out, and whether that’s a problem or not. Juan sees me struggling and comes over to help, and Daisy wanders over to spectate. Together we lift the heavy bags off of the top. He lifts, and I excavate the chair. “Muchas gracias!” We high five.
I keep looking in a pile near the office and realize David is laying down on the couch. I find one bota blanca and hold it up to him. “Quieres?” I wonder if this pile is for keeping or reselling.
“Si”. I wonder if I am bothering him...He gets up from the couch and plunders through a small pile near the office and unearths the other white boot and hands it to me.
“Mejor.” I agree. I guess if he is still participating in collection, I’m ok.
I find two umbrellas, a small shelf, and a pair of yellow rain pants. I place the small shelf off to the side, and notice Juan carefully dusting off the top of it with his hand. It strikes me that I’ve never seen him clean any other objects at the dump before. My choice to bring it with me changed the way he interacted with the objeto.
Juan and David are discussing something that I can’t understand. I feel like it might have to do with me so I walk over. David says something to me but I only catch the words “comida” and “pollo”.
“Quiero entender. Quieres comida?” David nods. Now I understand we are talking about another exchange.
“Ah si si! Pollo para ti!” He smiles. I wonder if he means an uncooked chicken or prepared. I try to ask him if he wants me to cook it and we fumble over pauses, words, and hand motions for a while.
“Kentooky!” David says.
“Kentooky??? ....Ahh! Kentucky! Kentucky Fried Chicken!” I say. “Si Si!” “Kentucky Fried Chicken para ti! Regreso con pollo. El pollo de Estados Unidos!” I point to myself and we all laugh.
I walk by the dump later in the day and call out to David, “Pollo!” and he winks at me.