Tuesday, August 2, 2011

organizing junk

Perhaps not everyone, but most people like to arrange things. Books in alphabetical order; spices on one shelf; canned goods on another; screwdrivers by size; a flowerbed of red geraniums bordered with blue lobelia; bridesmaids from taller to shorter. You go here, you go here. The arrangements aren’t always neat, but objects (and ideas) get grouped.
What is that arranging impulse? It follows us even into death. When I went to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City this past spring, I took pictures of burial arrangements.

Everything in its place with the idols out front. Presumably there was food, which has since decomposed, in the bowls. Each object here has meaning—or we assume it does because it’s here. Arranging gives value, even if it’s only subjective.
A couple of months ago I noticed that someone has been collecting junk and arranging it under the overpass east of the Maxi on Wellington St. heading into Verdun. At first the junk was literally bags of garbage. Old clothes I suspect he rifled from the donations box in the Maxi parking lot. Overstretched sweatpants and T-shirts scattered in heaps. Then he added a discarded chair. Some empty detergent bottles he could have scooped from a recycling box.
I know it’s a “he” because R has seen him when he jogs by in the early evening. There’s no one when I cycle past in the morning. The site is in permanent shadow because of the overpass. The concrete backdrop has arches, lending the suggestive air of an ancient temple. Garbage as artifacts from a consumer civilization. Every two or three weeks, the city clears the space.
He begins again. Each new exhibition grows more inventive. He’s got the passion for junk, he does. The messy heaps have been replaced by strategic arrangements. Here, a women’s pink bikini bottoms—which might have fallen from a bag after she changed when leaving the pool, or been a discard after sex. Here, a twisted length of glittery wrapping paper from a birthday party. A long-sleeved shirt with one arm stretched, the other folded: flagman on the ground.
This past weekend all the smaller objects were rearranged around an intact car bumper. A blue beret propped on top.  A defunct printer. A red platform shoe with a bow on an open magazine. A pink thermos.

Each new arrangement of garbage looks less like junk and more like a cultural event. Which makes me wonder if the arranging impulse that prompts people to stack their bowls in one cupboard and their mugs in another isn’t the rationalistic impulse it seems, but some nascent desire for artistry. ??
Quick, someone fund a SPECT scan to see which side of the brain has more blood flow during organizing.


  1. So lovely that you noticed this street artist and shared his work here. Thank you! As for the burial arrangement, I would love to see more of your photos if there are any, and to perhaps make a copy of one for my new Making Friends with Death exhibit in my writing room. Almost bought a skull today on the Royal Mile. xo

  2. I have more skulls and skeletons and would be honoured to share with a sheep stealer turned to crochet.