Thursday, April 30, 2009

ACTIVATE 2750 - explanation of the project by artist Ash Keating

In October 2008 I was contacted by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney to construct an application for a C3West contemporary art project, in partnership with SITA – Environmental Solutions.

The city of Penrith has a postcode of 2750 and is situated fifty kilometres west of Sydney in NSW. In November 2008 I visited this area on several occasions to visually map the area and gain an understanding of who and what 2750 represents.

Not dissimilar to many large Australian suburban cities, Penrith is a consumption Mecca swamped by superstore complexes and an enormous shopping plaza. The centre of the city is marked by the Penrith City council, the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts centre and Westfield shopping centre.

I visualised and proposed a project, that would activate a number of key public spaces and areas of consumption within Penrith city. It would involve me physically intercepting and manipulating material waste destined for burial at the SITA landfill in Kemps Creek.

Activate 2750 would be the culmination of a series of waste interventions I had actioned over the course of a year starting with 2020? in May 08 (http://2020question.blogspot.com), followed by Label Land of August 08 (http://label-land.blogspot.com)

2020?, involved working within a waste transfer station to temporarily intercept commercial and industrial waste from being compacted into landfill. The waste was collected and transported to the project site at the Meat Market in North Melbourne. The waste material was then condensed into a mass installation, with theatrical lighting and an emanating sound scape.

Label Land was a project undertaken whilst on a 3 month Asialink residency in Seoul, Korea. I worked with ten first year art students intercepting fabric label waste and manipulating it into costumes which we later paraded around Seoul in a series of public actions.

My proposal was accepted in December 08, and a return visit to Sydney was arranged for the first week of 2009 to start planning the various components of 2750. With preparations in place to begin on February 8th, my loving mother, friend and mentor, Pam Keating, tragically died in a car accident on January 26th.

Still in complete shock, I made arrangements to go through with the project that in essence I had worked towards collaboratively with her since 2004. We had talked together about how this was my most ambitious project to date and how it could possibly be my final project that would focus on issues of waste and consumption. It was important to both of us.

Since 2002, I worked for my mothers waste audit and Consultancy Company. Annually, I worked Australia wide, as a visual auditor assessing the amount of commercial and industrial waste sent to landfill. This experience opened my eyes to the disregard that industry in general have for sustainability, leading me to develop the 2020? project.

Following the completion of 2020? I undertook what would be my final audits for the company at various landfills and transfer stations in Sydney’s west. One particular transfer station run by SITA in Wetherill Park began daily operations at 4am. This hour of the morning saw numerous piles of dumped waste accumulated during the graveyard shift, of potential reusable and recyclable resources – daily. It was apparent that this was a perfect time and place to intercept materials.

Starting on February 10th 2009, my project assistant Rus Kitchin and I would wake at 3am daily for 2 weeks, and commute from St Mary’s to Wetherill Park to see what waste lay waiting for our interception. We salvaged 52 square metres of waste material and tightly packed it into 3 bulk bins for a 3am delivery to the 2750 project site on Thursday 26th of February.

Dumping a pile of waste in a city centre sounds straightforward, however various members of council, people in business, local artists and students along with safety requirements had to be addressed. Every day after returning from salvaging waste we would work through the day co-ordinating these various and ever-changing components.

Part way through the project we were made aware the pile would require containment by a fence for safety reasons. We decided to work with it by placing a second fence within it creating a rat run. This idea helped in creating an apocalyptic zoological habitat.

Shopping trolleys were manipulated into excentric movable waste machines by the local artists and art students who were all encouraged to be involved with pushing them, in a series of performative processions.

Over the course of four days the fabric cloaked artists and their overflowing trolleys began a journey to the waste installation, starting at the local superstore centres and proceeding down the city’s main highway. They moved in unison up along the main shopping strip then entered and traversed through the Westfield plaza. The procession then approached the spot-lite installation, where the colourful figures moved around and finally came to rest within their waste habitat.

Throughout this climactic performance an intense audio sound scape was projected by Vincent O’Connor, who had manipulated recorded sounds from the Wetherill Park transfer station.

A separate component of the Activate 2750 project was two live dance performances, involving Darrio Phillips and 3 of his students of ‘Krump’. They shook and flung their bodies and fabric waste costumes around and brought a key dynamic shift to the overall work.

Removing the waste installation took place in the early hours of the morning after the final performance. Three 30 metre bulk bins were placed down next to the pile and filled up in around 4 hours. The waste was delivered back to its original point of interception, at the Wetherill Park transfer station. The process of the movement of the waste material was documented right through to its compaction for the final journey to landfill.

Activate 2750 was always intended as glitches in existing systems of production and consumption. The installation highlighted the disposal of commercial and industrial waste, by redirecting it into the public realm. Through the procession performances, Activate 2750 presented an obscure reflection on the way in which we humans live our lives consuming.

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