The lost and found words of Refuse Reuse at the Crane Icebox

A hint of bleach wafted through the Icebox when I visited last Thursday night for the closing reception of Refuse Reuse: Language for the Common Landfill, a ten-day project organized by Tim Belknap and Ryan McCartney and featuring work by a host of volunteers. In this project, where people’s throwaways became fodder for creative writing, volunteers Chris Golas and Joe DiGiuseppi were the trash rustlers, wrangling black trashbags from Philadelphia streets (they made a video of their curbside pickups, which was projected on a pile of white trash bags).  And a host of artists, musicians and writers volunteered to create word pieces — poems, lists, textual nonsense, stories, even — banging them out on computers set up at a temporary work station at the Crane.

Contents of one of the 100 trash bags archived at the Icebox in Refuse Reuse: Language for a Common Landfill

McCartney and Belknap’s idea was to parse the trash into its component parts — the objects, and the words or text (old bills, flyers, grocery lists, labels, etc).  They would exhibit the objects (after cleaning: they dipped everything in bleach) and turn the throwaway words over to the volunteer writers who would each write something based on the textual debris, and the writings would be turned into a book.

One hundred bags of trash were picked up over ten days; each bag’s contents (minus some yucky stuff like, sadly, dead animals, which were disposed of) was displayed Thursday night on its own blue or green plastic sheet on the floor of the Icebox, very archeological dig-like.

Dig this – archeological arrays of what was in the trash bags collected for Refuse Reuse

As for the recycled-word texts created by the writers, they were on display in the Grey Area, on 8 1/2 x 11″ sheets, gridded around the room along with a picture of the unopened trash bag the words represent. A limited edition book is being printed by Fireball Printing and will be ready by Christmas. Here’s who participated:

Kim Brandt, Anthony Campuzano, Lindsay Chandler, Emily Davidson, Christopher Davidson. Joseph DiGiuseppe, Rachel Dobkin, Jacob Feige, Beverly Fisher, Sean Robert Fitzgerald, Leslie Friedman, Rubens Ghenov, Chris Golas, Matthew Geil, Alyssa Grenning, Walsh Hansen, Christopher Hartshorne, Matthew Herzog, Jesse Kudler, David Lawson, Asher Lewis, Fabian Lopez, Chris McCreary, Anna Neighbor, Ryan Parker, Jess Perlitz, John Roebas, Carlos Soto Roman, Suzanne Seesman, Meredith Sellers, Jennie Shanker, Frank Sherlock, Emily Squires, Sean Stoops, Alexis Thompson, Mike Treffehn, Lee Tusman, Eric Veit

What I like best about this project is its focus on words as something discarded — and recovered — and turned to new purpose. And not just words from Shakespeare, or pop songs, which get plenty of use and re-use, but words that are everyday words, turning them into a kind of word bricolage. I wonder if a reading from the book would be in order, turning the words again into something ephemeral and thrown away, uttered and lost to memory.

This is a great, community-spirited project, which produced something worthwhile from a good idea and some labor, without a lot of fuss or fancy materials. The project ended Nov. 28 and if you are interested in a copy of the book — or seeing pictures of book pages, go to the new MCartney/Belknap website for more information and instructions for purchasing.