Recycle or Die

by Mark Hahn

Long before the claws of death scoop up the final dregs of life and sifts them into one pile of small worthless pieces of shit and another pile of larger worthless pieces of shit, someone has already ripped apart everything to find anything that holds value. The scrap yard contains a cross section of stuff that most people don’t want to see or even think about. Whatever had once been useful in life is eventually cast off.

What do we do with all this stuff that no one wants? Personally, I’ve always found great creative inspiration in the temporary collections of salvaged stuff assembled during the recycling process. This is the energy of organization — the relative polarity between order and disorder played out on a bed of toxic soil. In a small way, the structure of life and the universality of biochemistry is mirrored in these haphazard piles of stuff. What they become is up to the observer. We get to play god when we give ourselves over to art.

On the southside of Tucson exists a stretch of land bounded by railroad tracks, the Air Force base, prisons and small pieces of desert nowhere. This is where you find junk yards, scrap yards, refineries and small dirty industries — everything that most people want to ignore.

As the man who let us into the scrap yard said, “My wife can’t stand when I make her come down here!”

We laughed.

As much as his wife didn’t want to see where her husband worked, their joint economic lives depended on it. The scrap yard was an integral part of their personal economic cycle of life. It is the end and the beginning.

We build houses to create order, we fill these houses with stuff to create an illusion of personal order. We layout cities to impose an ideal of social order. The workers in a scrap yard move things around to create value in order from what we cast off — harnessing the energy dispersion of our wasteful society.

An interesting side effect that comes from working with the junk of life is that many people can’t help but see themselves in it. At nearly every junk and scrap yard that you pass, if you look close enough you will find where workers will have assembled humanoid muffler-art men, animals and other fantasy objects out of the junk at hand. Some is used for advertising no doubt, but much of it is simply made to fulfill the basic human need to create representational objects that mark our existence. Fantasies come from the junk of life, not from what we own.

This is the stuff that has no immediate value, but evokes imagination and emotions. The stuff that we don’t know what else to do with is there for appropriation. These are the things that can be seen and assembled in new ways. Dreams are created from what is at hand. Creative magic brings all the bullshit of life together in such a way that it becomes something else — something beautiful and something new.