By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Titled A Trip to the Dump, this was perhaps the shortest excursion ever organized by CLUI – 20 miles east on the freeway to Puente Hills in Whittier, site of the largest active landfill in America. Passengers who had braced themselves for an olfactory-challenging immersion were not disappointed by a brief side visit to the Central L.A. Recycling and Transfer Facility — a somewhat decrepit way station just southeast of downtown, where a constant almond-scented misting did little to inhibit the reek of garbage as it was dumped and plowed and dumped again.
Puente Hills itself is another story. “People say, ‘Solid waste management is a dirty business,’” proclaims the County Sanitation District Disposal Site’s glossy brochure. “We say, ‘Rubbish!’” Carefully designed to be invisible and unsmellable to the neighboring communities, Puente Hills carefully choreographs the constant stream of trucks to sort your asphalt from your appliances, then crushes each day’s worth of bona fide trash (13,200 tons to be precise) into football-field-sized “cells” using the 120,000-pound steel-wheeled Bomag compactor. Seven regulatory agencies engage in elaborate monitoring for radiation, ground water safety and habitat protection. The facility uses methane gas leached from the fermenting trash to fuel its fleet of vehicles, and processes recovered wastewater for dust control and maintaining the landfill’s indigenous flora camouflage and oak tree nursery. Though we saw numerous breathtaking industrial vistas, we garbage-tourists probably saw more actual trash at the downtown Transfer Facility than in Puente Hills’ 400 acres. Until we got inside the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).
Immaculate and efficient as it is, the landfill will be chock-full by 2013, which is when the trash train to Mesquite kicks in. Central to this vision of the future of solid-waste management is the MRF (pronounced “Murph”), a hangar-sized building where small mountains of refuse are gradually broken down into smaller mountains of desert-bound landfill and recyclable materials. The mixed recyclables are loaded onto conveyor belts to be picked over and sorted by mostly female, nonunion, minimum-wage laborers. This was the hypnotic money shot of CLUI’s Trip to the Dump: the layered, ethically queasy view from the elevated spectator’s gallery as thousands of white plastic bags or brown cardboard boxes were continuously plucked from their industrial routing mechanism, cascading to the floor into improbably gorgeous sculptural forms. I kept half-expecting Matthew Barney to pop out and do a tap routine; the DIA Foundation definitely needs to get in on this action. If Earthworks has a future, this is it.
Perhaps as an antidote to the can-do outlook of the waste management industry (and certainly as an observation about the disposal of our most personal detritus), we made a quick stop at the conveniently next-door Rose Hill Memorial Park and Mortuary (the largest cemetery in the world — they grow ’em big in Whittier!), then headed home, the bus’ video screens replaying the climactic scene from Soylent Green as the passengers dozed. It occurred to me that even this was one step removed from the purest form of CLUI’s creative endeavor — Coolidge and company are constantly making exploratory research trips, and only a handful of “lucky” observers ever get to tag along. So even if you’re on the bus, you’re not really on the bus. But then I thought of all the little projects and interventions in the last decade that have sprung up in CLUI’s wake. Like the Merry Pranksters (and any other creative entity successfully sculpting the socially mediated environment), CLUI’s most important artwork (or whatever you want to call it) is the example it has set. That’s the only way to get on the bus: to get off your ass and do it yourself.
POST CONSUMED: THE LANDSCAPE OF WASTE IN LOS ANGELES | The Center for Land Use Interpretation | 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City | (310) 839-5722 | Ongoing