On Detritus

Constant Linear Velocity installed at the Onassis Cultural Centre for Detritus Festival, January 2018.


This text is the sleevenotes written for the publication of the Constant Linear Velocity CD on Consumer Waste, which discusses the experience of rebuilding the work in January 2018 for the Detritus Festival:

The six floor cube of the Onassis Cultural Centre stands on Sygrou Avenue, an eight-lane artery running between central Athens and the coast. Opposite, flanking the hotel where I am staying stand two strip clubs: Babylon GIRLS Live Show GIRLS Night Club & the Everything you want right now!!! Dream Girls Bar, whose sign is bullet-pointed with all five senses, in case you doubt their definition of everything. Amongst the 4 star hotels, car showrooms and strip joints, the OCC, wrapped in pinstripes of white marble, is incongruously opulent.

I am here to reconstruct a work made from numerous empty desktop computer cases using end-of-life machines sourced in the city. Even on the brief walk out for dinner last night it was clear that this work has considerably more poignancy in a city and country which has borne the brunt of the last decade’s financial meltdown in Europe. I have arranged with the festival producers for the hire of 120 or more desktop computers stripped down to just their metal chassis in which I will install the customised optical drives that form the kinetic and auditory content of the work. When I arrive in the morning they are being wheeled in and unloaded, but my instructions to strip down the machines in advance have been lost in translation, most of the plastic and electronics remains.

For the next eight hours I perform the labour of low waged e-gleaners on the polished marble of the 4th floor foyer. Systematically stripping out disc drives, power supplies, fans and USB ports, occasionally watched by an increasingly concerned production team as the volume of discarded components swells into heaps. In the dynamic established by the global electronics industry this work is supposed to be invisible, it happens in the margins and the fringes, not the foyers of a ‘Centre’. For some of the OCC staff, I sense there is something shameful in this relocation of salvage labour to the gleaming interior of their privately financed art space. But this performance of manual labour, whose audience is restricted to workers of the Cultural Centre, feels more vital than the aesthetic work I am here to build for a festival attending public. Over the course of the day there is a satisfying inversion in play as cleaners, caretakers, security and reception staff – all doubtless earning less than me today – drift pass or linger to watch me hurriedly tearing down PC after PC.

I try to sort and stack the components as they come out, but the quantity regularly exceeds the spaces I have allocated. A janitor with a large roll of corrugated card is instructed to cover the floor I am working on to protect against scratches (casing screws skittering across marble make a lovely sound). Halfway through the day my proposal to keep all of this detritus, to  build it into the work, raises concerned brows from the production team and by the end of the day I am talked out of it. A team of men arrive, all hands on hips, rolled eyes and muted sighs. After the customary mutterings and gesticulations they bag it all into large rubble sacks and wheel it away, trolley-load after trolley-load. But as it is tided out of sight, the emptiness of the computer chassis feel stripped, not only of the functional parts and coagulates of dust which clung to them this morning, but also of the hierarchies of labour revealed by the day’s activity.

The next morning, to the palpable relief of the production team, I am safely back in art worker role, able to contemplate  the architectonic relation of the sculpture to the aggregated polykatoikia lining the horizon. The fringes of Athens, we are told a couple of days later, are dense with unfinished buildings, holiday homes begun over a decade ago whose completion was curtailed by the crash. Windowless, unfurnished concrete shells, projections of a future that has been denied.