Junk Nature People

Your great grandfather was a goatherd somewhere in the Levant. Those guys have quite a life, as they like. Fresh fish & tomatoes. Cheap and palatable wine. Lots of time outdoors in fine weather. Rustic accomodation, no hassles.

His son, the cloth merchant, sidestepped whatever pogrom was coming his way by taking a one-way trip to western Europe, buying a dilapidated warehouse and family home, turning each into a place of economic and social significance. His children moved to America in response to pressures of push and pull, becoming deans of engineering at Pittsburgh, research chemists at Kodak, wine growers in the Napa valley. Their children scattered in the winds, some returning to an ancestors’ point of departure.

Some of the ones who stayed put managed to prosper. Others, both there and here,who knows? A few killed themselves, dropped out, went off the rails, or never got a foot on the ladder.

In those days, for the lucky ones, outward mobility was conjoined with upward mobility.

For some, it’s still that way. For others, today, not so much.

What’s the word for it?

So what are we to say when a piece of space junk turns up on an inner city demolition site? You know, some piece of resin and copper traces, a bit of plastic, and some obscure numbering. Or maybe it’s a broken bit of ceramic tile made in on the other side of the country sometime in the 80s. The kind of thing you scuff against while you’re kicking about that empty demolition site a mile from home.

I’ll tell you what I say it is. It’s a greeting card from the folks back home. It’s a reminder, and an intimate connection worth paying attention to.

It was your 2nd cousin Remi who made that bit of resin and electronics. Or your aunt 3 times removed on your mother’s side who made sure it was in that particular consignment shipped overseas. It was your sister’s friend Louise whose neighbour’s brother glazed that now-shattered bit of tile.

So when you are kicking about the remains of a knocked down community centre in a neglected, underfunded, dodgy part of town, does it even occur to you that this piece of junk is the story of your parents’ lives?

More to the point, is there something I can do to break the feelings of alienation, or make some feeling of connection? Can I assemble a collection (of things made over there, shipped here, used, then dumped on the pavements) as a way of reminding you about your own journey, vis-a-vis your kith and kin? So that you see yourself as of this place, and see it as worthy of your attention?

Suppose I took all the discarded suitcases, fridges, shoes, set top boxes and bits of living room furniture I came across in your neighbourhood, and arranged them on this barren patch to match the pattern of streets in your great grandfathers’ village (in his time, or now). Would you walk among them and feel something of where you came from? Could all that junk serve as something other than a metaphor of the distanciation you feel from both your immediate surroundings and the place you’re meant to call home? What’s the opposite of alienation? Endearment? Re-affection? Can we start a process of reaffection through a junk art project? Would that speak to you in a positive way?

Those demolition sites are spaces of renewal. When the buildings get crushed, the pavement is ripped up, and the bulldozers flatten or make mounds of it all, a whole procession of plants and critters make their move. Junk Nature, we should call it. Academic and policy literature calls it the colonisation of derelict sites. Migration of hardy plant and animal species. There’s a lot of beauty in those places. Get up close and look at it. Visit and get to know the details. You’ll see a lot of tenacity, and a whole landscape of opportunity.

People who prefer or adapt to life in the rubble. Junk Nature People.

You can find yourself there. You can find your past, present and future there. When the authorities and bigwigs trash the place, you and your junk are there to carry on.

Me, I want to get some goats into the picture. Nothing says resilience and integrity like goats. My great grandpa would surely know about that. For our great-grandparents, it would be a sure sign of home.