WASTE.AGENCY: NOTIONS OF BROKEN

Stage two of the Waste.Agency explores the notions of the word broken. To know if something is broken often requires at least the minimal understanding of how something works.

Broken Ukulele Image, popestatesPhotography

Stage one of the Waste.Agency (Oct-Dec 2014) was to ascertain whether there is an appetite in The City, the UK capital’s financial heart, to engage in a conversation considering the economic system built on consumption and wastefulness. The abstract art on exhibit and performances generated over 1,300 discussions; the majority with people working in the City of London. These exchanges produced fascinating insights into specificities of the economy and confidence that the project could germinate new thought processes.

The second stage (Jan-March 2015) of the intervention is to make inroads into how the economy operates, and by extension the environmental impact, by gathering a better understanding of how things are supposed to work.

“Broken” is often screamed from media headlines and too often politicians in reference to the economy, society or sometimes the whole world! Yet is there any human who really understands the economy, society and the universe enough to make such bold claim that one or all are broken? People only have general notions of the working mechanics of each sliver of the economic, environmental and universal system, as it is too intricate for any one person to fully comprehend.

Rethinking the Nuts and Bolts of the Economy.

The Waste.Agency is full of broken instruments, tights, phones, games, etc., yet how do we know something is broken if we don’t fully understand its function or purpose? Grandparents befuddled by the grandchildren’s X-Box, grandchildren in wonderment at the moving keys on a manual typewriter, our understanding is often fixed by our experiences and learning. Stage two is to begin to garner the nuts and bolts of the economy by asking people to discuss their job roles. Talks and discussions are being arranged with experts in the field from insurance to energy. The plan is to build an understanding of the mechanisms that the pecuniary system requires to function. By better understanding the financial market that the rest of the economy relies upon may provide unexpected thinking or reconsideration of how market systems operate.

UCL Partnership

From 1st January 2015, the Waste.Agency will be formally partnered by the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP).

The UCL Institute for Global Prosperity aims to transform how we make decisions, the kinds of evidence and reasoning on which our decisions are based, and the tools (cultural, policy, legal) we have at our disposal. https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/prosperity/

Bringing the collective weight of one of the world’s leading universities behind the intervention gives access to a range of researchers and facilities, which may provide alternative views or philosophies.

Understanding Notions of Broken

One of the key aspects of the Waste.Agency that is ‘intriguing’ people and what workers are finding ‘thought provoking’ (see comments book) are the artworks created using items seen as waste or obsolete, some work is literally made of household dust. The research that has gone in behind creating the Waste.Agency has revealed two constants: Money and the idea of broken. Money as a constant comes as little surprise, whether speaking with people of wealth or in terrible poverty, the basic understanding of money remains similar. Broken on the other hand, whether as in ‘broken communities’, as in Margate 2011, or ‘broken society’ as in Tapescape Catford 2012, took longer to recognise.

The first 18 months of the Waste.Agency is to try to understand how the economy actually works, and if we find that it is actually broken then what can be done to fix it? Or dispose of it safely and begin again!

Broken as a term is often applied to a breakdown of marriage or friendship. Relationship breakdown can be one of the most stressful aspects of life, and this can be applied to an object or animal as much as another human, sometimes more so. Sustainable design professor, Jonathan Chapman describes the discarding of an object that may still have a purpose as ‘a symptom of a failed relationship’ (2005: 169), ‘the only crime for a toaster that still toasts is a failure to sustain empathy with the end user’ (2005: 20). Ideas of empathy will be discussed further on into the intervention and whether it plays a significant role in the perception of broken.

Stage two is to understand what is a toaster, an insurance company, a bank, The International Monetary Fund? Professor John Wood asks ‘How can we quantify human need without specifying an arbitrary context or standard in cultural, social or economic terms?’ (2002: 297).

Performances and Exhibitions

The Orchestra of Broken Instruments (OoIB) is one the routes in attempting to understand broken. A weekly Monday evening event (Free entry) that invites people to bring broken objects and create sound and music. Each week a recording is uploaded to Soundcloud (listen here). Beginning with only 2 people the evening has attracted up to 25 and has created a symphony of crisp packets to the playing of a camera tripod. It is intriguing professional musicians and record producers and, intentionally or otherwise, making many of the participants rethink the idea of broken. As an example, a young girl aged 8 who regularly participated in the OoIB surprised her mother by not crying when her violin bow broke during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall and afterwards declared that she could use it during the next OoIB rehearsal.

Rethinking the idea of broken plays a major part in the powerful Tights Ball project, ongoing since 2013, which uses the most innocuous, gentle and pretty of clothing items, tights and stockings, to encourage people to reconsider waste and recycling. Over 400 stories have been collected on how people engage with tights, from purchasing to disposal. What is proving fascinating is how this seemingly simple project has, and continues, to generate a deeper inquiry into broader behaviour.

Understanding notions of broken, whether a broken object, relationship, economy or otherwise requires some form of evaluation within a defined set of parameters. Defining the parameters is stage two of the Waste.Agency. Click here to view upcoming talks and events.

Broken violin bow. Image: popestatesPhotography

Chapman, J., (2005), Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences and Empathy, Earthscan, London,

Wood, J., (July 2002), (Un)managing the Butterfly: Co-sustainment & the Grammar of Self, found in International Review of Sociology, Vol.12, Number 2, Carefax Publishing