Cabinets of Wonder » DSNY: Initial Thoughts

2 minute read

Scraped from an email exchange with Idit:

I think your ‘smart’ garbage pile (made of kid-safe foam objects and was it RFID chips to trigger content?) is interesting, not just as a general sorting activity but also as a kind of historical simulation. According to the Robin Nagle talk in Maggie Lee’s shared Drive folder, historically there were ‘gleaners’ (scavengers, destitute women and children mostly) that picked through garbage for materials that could be sold. Apparently Col. George E. Waring, Jr. (founding head of the Dept. of Street Cleaning) made certain the gleaners still had that income when he took over.

So maybe one aspect of the garbage pile activity is about picking what was historically ‘the best stuff’. Also interesting is Waring had a fantasy (as has every commissioner since according to Robin Nagle) that sales of reclaimed materials would make the department revenue neutral. So maybe that’s a challenge: pick through enough stuff of enough value to make recycling revenue offset taxes? Maybe the foam garbage gets dumped on the pile faster than it can be optimally sorted, or there’s a tension between removing what’s bad for the environment versus removing what has value? If it’s made of foam, ‘garbage’ could fall from the ceiling and bonk kids on the head while they scramble to dig through the pile. That could be fun. Maybe it changes over the course of the activity: it starts off as historically ‘valuable’ stuff falling from the ceiling and increasingly the garbage becomes more modern and the task changes to picking out stuff that’s recyclable and/or bad for the environment.

But I also like your idea of a Garbageheim visitor center at the foot of a pier that leads out to the barge. In particular I like it because it juxtaposes two different ways of measuring time through waste accumulation: the landfill (Garbageheim Visitor Center) is time along the vertical axis whereas the barge (looking back at the waterfront) is time along the horizontal axis. In other words, the Manhattan shoreline expanded outward over time whereas landfills pile upward over time.

175 Water Street was the site of an important archeological dig that discovered a colonial era shipwreck that was purposely sunk to create a foundation for more construction:

We could speculate the barge is at the end of Pier 15 with a huge picture frame window that looks back at 175 Water Street. Maybe while the audience looks back toward Manhattan through the huge picture frame window there’s some AR headset experience that ‘peels back’ the horizontal layers of time as the shoreline recedes and eventually reveals the a rendering of the shipwreck.