House 38: Hazardous Objects (2009 – 2010)

  “We bring the rich people’s dustbins back here and we do their dirty work” 

Portia Gcobisa Zungula, informal recycler, House 38.

 

South Africa, judged to have one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, is an absurd mish-mash of first world wealth clashing up against mass unemployment, poverty and displacement. And while the rich get richer, the poor must become increasingly resourceful in the business of everyday survival. The recycling of paper, plastic, tin and glass is generally perceived to be the preserve of prosperous, stable nations. But in South Africa, the informal recycling of these materials has established itself as one of the few accessible means by which the urban poor can generate an income.

House 38: Hazardous Objects probed the experiences and rationales of a community of informal recyclers living at ‘House 38’ on the corner of Sievwright and Charles streets in downtown Johannesburg. This was a bleak place – two stories high, the ground floor taken up by a panel-beating outfit, the upper two, home to around 200 people. There was hardly a pane of glass left in the windows, no running water, no electricity, and the stairwell and inter-leading passages doubled as storage space for reeking, recyclable trash. But House 38 was a site of initiative, hard work and even harder-won self-determination.

The lead replicas of the rubbish collected and recycled by the community at House 38 become a memorial of sorts to the thankless yet valuable role played by informal recyclers in our society. Although their motive is a matter of survival and not a desire to protect the environment, I nevertheless wanted to recognise the significant environmental role they play, whether inadvertent or not. I wanted the (indestructible) lead relics to signify, or become tokens to, the permanence of man’s devastating impact on the planet and to the positive contribution made by the recyclers.

 

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (beer bottle neck)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (Fanta 500ml)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (Peter Styvesant packet)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (crushed plastic water bottle)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (Leather glove)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable

Title: House 38: Hazardous Objects (section of water pipe)

Date: 2009 – 2010

Medium: Lead sheet

Dimensions: Variable