GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration.
Makery: What was your first impression when you entered the bowels of this processing plant?
Stefan Shankland: The sheer scale of everything. The orders of magnitude here are monumental, gargantuan, in terms of both spaces and quantities. More than 700,000 tons of waste are processed each year, 100 tons are incinerated each day. This waste is ours—mine accumulated with 1.5 million other residents’ waste. It makes you acutely aware of how much garbage we produce collectively without realizing it. Through this visual, physical, spatial experience, we enter the imagination and the representation of what we produce as a society, or even as humanity.
In your video pieces, the workers are barely represented, or else they are played by dancers who seem to be imitating machines. Are the workers invisible in this world of scrap metal?
This is another aspect that struck me during my first visits. You enter an enormous site that processes waste from 1.5 million residents, but you don’t see anyone. You might see three people working in an office, and there’s a series of trucks that come in, but nobody gets out of them. They dump the waste in the pit, and then they leave. You don’t run into any humans, it’s something very mechanical.
Occasionally you do meet workers, mostly men. But they have a difficult relationship with their professional image. When it comes to the popular image of their profession, there is a kind of shame associated with garbage. The workers don’t voluntarily expose themselves as working in a waste processing plant. We always respected their right to privacy.