This weekend, an artist residency program in Philadelphia is inviting the public to experience what it’s like to salvage material out of a trash-processing plant.
“Live At the Dump” features family activities at Revolution Recovery in the industrial part of the Holmesburg neighborhood in the Northeast.
The business takes in about 350 tons of trash a day — mostly construction debris that’s sorted for recyclable material. For years Billy Dufala, a city artist, has used raw materials from Revolution Recovery for his sculptural projects.
Three years ago, he started inviting other artists to do the same through a program called RAIR — Recycled Artist In Residency. Artists use an on-site studio and source material from the ever-changing mountain of material in the yard. It must be seen to be believed.
“I don’t think it’s possible for human beings to hear a number like 350 tons and actually have a mental image of what that looks like,” said Dufala, whose relationship with trash runs the gamut of childlike elation and environmental worry.
“In the beginning, you’re a kid in the candy store. All these materials and all this opportunity,” he said. “And then there’s this immersion, where you get bonked on the head in the second week you’re here — that 350 tons keep coming every day. It can be inspiring, and it can be depressing.”
With some money from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Dufala is now expanding that experience to non-artists. This weekend begins a series of film screenings, performances, and hands-on activities centered on sustainable art-making.
On Sunday, RAIR will suspend a movie screen between two heavy-load excavators to screen “Wall-E,” the animated film about a lonely robot stuck on an abandoned planet to sort its trash. The following weekend will feature “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” a post-apocalyptic story of rag-tag tribes surviving off the detritus of an earlier age.
“Looking at the crazier aspects of the human race, and what this post-apocalyptic fantasy would look like, and how it’s not too far off from the trajectory we’re on,” said Dufala.
In June, the series will feature a performance by artist Martha McDonald, one of the RAIR artists in residence currently creating a music-based performance inspired by the dump. That will be followed by a discussion with Creative Time founder Nato Thompson and artist Tom Sachs, who often works with salvaged material.
Dufala says all the events are family-friendly and safe for kids.