WASHINGTON, DC                                               << back

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The level of tolerance toward street trash varies between individuals, cultures, locations, occasions, and moods.   In some places, even minimal litter constitutes a breach of both law and aesthetic, while in others one cannot turn a corner without encountering a mound of trash, regarded with indifference by most who pass by it.   Whichever point of the spectrum it happens to fall on, the tolerance toward litter amounts to just that: mere tolerance.  Rarely do we see people offering cheers and smiles toward trash.  Yet this is exactly what I experienced while carrying out El Mundo de La Basura.

On April 4, 2009 I inflated a Jumbo Happy Face Ball (manufactured by Inflatable Toy Company, Los Angeles, CA), covered it completely with clear tape, sticky side out, and brought it out on a sidewalk of the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Northwest Washington DC.   My wife Sveta began rolling the “Happy Jumbo” in front of her as I filmed it picking up whatever stuck to its surface.   The ball exhibits all the litter and debris it collected along the perimeter of dozen-some city blocs, between the 16th and 11th streets and Newton Street and Park Road.  These are the streets I walk every day for leisure and chores.  I wouldn’t say their trash-scape is overwhelming (I have lived in places where one sees much-much more), but it is noticeably present and richly diverse in colors, textures, media, and shapes.  I was compelled to find an entertaining way of illuminating its unexpected aesthetic, amidst the brick Victorian row houses with cozy front porches and flower gardens.
Just minutes into its sidewalk roll, the ball began absorbing casual ornaments off the asphalt.  With every loop around its axis, it was acquiring features of a turning kaleidoscope.  As a physical process, this project shows how by subjecting a surface to the forces of random painting a mass-produced prefabricated item can transform into a one of a kind collage.  As a cultural study, the endeavor turned into a surface archaeology of city streets with high level of public engagement.  "Nice trash ball! ... You missed a spot!...  God bless you, come roll it on my street!" people exclaimed at us while watching from their windows or porches, or passing by.  “El mundo de la basura [world of trash],” someone commented in Spanish, giving the work its current title.  A few parents took the opportunity to give their children an anti-littering lecture, while the latter made attempts to follow alongside Sveta, pushing the ball and even picking up additional scraps off the ground to see whether the items "would stick,” and many of them did. 

©Igor Pasternak