Tropical beaches choked with garbage, untreated sewage muddying turquoise waters. The flip side of the tourism brochures.
I was sorry to miss the RUS (Residuos Urbanos Sólidos) Basurama project in Santo Domingo working with the local art collective Picnic, which last week put up a tsunami of garbage on the Malecón at Máximo Gómez, one of the major crossroads of the city center.
Yeah, I know, tsunamis happen in the Pacific, not the Caribbean, which is hurakán territory, but the image is lovely -- a curtain/wave of discarded green, blue and white plastic collected at a dump outside the city, interrupting the horizon view of the sea, hovering over traffic, threatening the passersby.
RUS, a year-long continental project by the Spanish group Basurama (English description), is a series of clever art-activist actions that puts together site-specific projects connecting industrial-world consumerism, waste streams and the labor that manages it in Latin America (and the developing world).
In México City, they customized the carts used by pepenadores/scrap metal collectors and redesigned some of them to become games that would easily fit in with the street circus culture that exists in the city. Videos documenting project here.
In Miami, they found an abandoned pickup truck bed, and by collecting pieces at the car parts junk marts spread around the city, turned the pickup into a mobile club-ready light and music maker. Videos here.
In DR, the project looked at the garbage that collects along the Malecón, and the tons of garbage produced by the sprawling city and sent out to vast dumps, garbage cities, picked over by the poorest of the poor (this scene repeats itself outside just about all the large cities in the world -- settlements and economies sustained by garbage). The curtain/wave of garbage went up last weekend. The series of videos here.
For me, the project brought up a lot of memories, about the degradation of El Malecón, the city's old point of public relaxation, which I could see and smell from my childhood home, the spot for cruising, strolling, canoodling, chimi-buying, kite-flying, the annual carnaval parade (in one of the videos, you see carnaval characters known as los Africanos, which is an odd example of Black people in Blackface, but which to me also evokes sweat, labor, the garbage people). It has been a space to breathe.
It also reminded me of ill-conceived state-sponsored projects, such as trucking in white sand to re-beachify Güibia á la Paris-Plage, mall-ify the Malecón or make an artificial pleasure island, all for tourism's sake.
But as I've mourned before, public space in my old city is not what it was. I am still disoriented, so I gravitate to projects that act to reclaim these spaces.