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December 4, 2013 | 18 Comments

GLASSPHEMY! (Macro Sea)

From the curators: Environmentally responsible design does not necessarily signify sanctimony and abnegation. Some—Macro Sea and yours truly, for instance—argue that a sense of responsibility and economy should simply become a normal part of life, and thus be subjected to high quality standards and normal human behaviors—including the need to blow off some steam. Macro Sea, a New York City–based developer “whose mission is to create unexpected value in underutilized places,” designed this bulletproof-glass recycling tower installation, called Glassphemy, as a way to reinvigorate the recycling process. Participants standing on the higher platform are encouraged to grab locally sourced bottles and hurl them into the tower below, or at the wall of onlookers on the lower platform, in a liberating burst of eco-aggression. The shattered glass is then pulverized on site by a bicycle-powered tumbler.

The images are clear, though only partially lit and half-hidden in shadow: they show adults, sometimes couples, sometimes alone, throwing bottles. They are surrounded by shattered glass inside a structure of some sort, a kind of arena; other people are cheering them on. The audience is lively, pressing their faces up so as not to miss even a second of what’s happening inside, watching the wreckage, enthusiasts of this mad energy, this apparently open invitation to destroy things. There are more people waiting in line, holding yet more bottles, waiting impatiently but thrilled. It is not just two minutes of hate here, but an entire evening: a binge of breaking with the whole town involved.

But it’s not vandalism, despite the piles of sharp edges and shards. It’s a festival, a setting aside of the rules to wreak carnivalesque destruction, and it arrives with the unsettling suggestion that we need outlets like this—architecturally framed free-zones—ritual sites of violence and energy expenditure falling far beyond mere exercise, some riotous and shared occasion that lets us find equilibrium again. There is a metabolic need, the project implies, to assault the world itself—or at least its representatives—as if other energies long buried will always seek unrestrained release.

Or not, of course.

Perhaps it’s all just a joke. Perhaps it’s just another long Saturday of boredom in the city somewhere and you’ve got some bottles to break. You would have thrown them out anyway, or put flowers in them, or lined them up on your windowsill like a college student. In a sense, it’s no wonder everyone in the photos is so excited: laughing, waiting in line, getting to know one another and catching up. You can flail your arms like a baby and throw things, watch old bottles burst open in flowers of glass, and it’s all because the day didn’t go your way or you had nothing better to do after work (and neither did your best friend). You can hurl out your frustrations with a smile.

It’s the furthest possible thing from a riot or revolution, then; it’s probably the safest place to be in the city. Charge admission and it’s a new commercial sport, no different from bowling. Like darts, your grandparents will play it. Just wear a pair of gloves.

But the confusion—Is it a dangerous outburst? Is it an only slightly odd evening out with the kids?—wraps around itself neatly in the end and a kind of secret is revealed. It doesn’t matter where the energy comes from if you can make something from it, from this debris, if you can forge shapes from the chaos. You break things down to build anew later—in this case, melting shining piles of ruins down again into something pliant and beaten, rolled in ovens and massaged again into newborn beings. Bottles become bottles become jewelry become art. The rage—or was it celebration?—was just an intermediary moment in this cycle of exchange.

macroSea_2

David Belt (American, b. 1967) of Macro Sea (USA, est. 2007), Vamos Architects (USA, est. 2007), John Wischmann (American, b. 1964), Paul Maiello (American, b. 1966), and Jason Krugman (American, b. 1983). GLASSPHEMY! 2010. Plexiglass, steel, wood, responsive light installation, and glass bottles, 20 x 8 x 16′ (6 x 2.5 x 5 m). Image courtesy of the designers. Photos by Chris Mottalini. Drawings by Macro Sea + Vamos Architects

Is this rage, celebration, or just an intermediary moment in a cycle of exchange?

  1. December 5, 2013, 5:27 pm

    cameron tonkinwise

    distracting violence

    The (art)work only works, as ambiguous, if the system actually enables (non-destructive) recycling. But by setting up this opposition, it depends on a (violently) superficial understanding of sustainability (via recycling).

    Glass can be thermally recycled back into glass at lower energy than it takes to make glass out of sand, but to turn food-grade glass back into (transparent) food-grade glass requires carefully sorted and heavily washed recyclate. Contaminates from different colored glass, remnant contents, labels and adhesives, caps, etc, make recycled glass only ever useful as aggregate in road fill and novelty-value-only jewelry.

    Given the energy involved in getting glass recyclate into a washed and sorted form suitable to become food-grade packaging again for your boutique wine or artisanal beer or hipster kombucha, you may as well just wash the intact bottle and reuse it. We no longer do this, not because recycling is less ecoimpacting than washing-for-reuse, but because handling glass in ways that afford reuse involves human labor, and human labor is expensive and local, not globalizably industrializable.

    So the supposed non-violent component to this project – the recycling of the glass – is a lie. Which makes the work just doubly violent.

    (And let’s not talk of the claim to “create unexpected value in underutilized places.” There are no underutilized places: there are just places from which people who could use them are excluded so that they can be flipped for future profitability. But better not to de-normalize the belief that for their to be creation, especially unexpected as opposed to wanted/needed/demanded, there must be destruction.)

  2. December 5, 2013, 6:41 pm

    Duncan Fairfax

    Completely Agree

    As the previous commentator points out the ‘spectacular’ trivialization of all of these concerns under the guise of some post-Bataillean or Stoeklesque orgy of violent expenditure is deeply flawed. But unfortunately the complexity of the critique of it will also only appear to the uninitiated as if “through a glass darkly”!

  3. December 5, 2013, 11:11 pm

    Matt

    This thing makes me angry. I think about the severe price that many activists have paid over the years for, in some cases, actually using property destruction as a tactic to stop irresponsible behaviour by corporations. Like actual harassment, beatings, rape, torture, and imprisonment. By comparison this work is trivial (and trivialising) apolitical entertainment. As tonkinwise explained, its also a profoundly stupid interpretation of sustainability.

    Anger is important to politics but this work is literally a means to contain and neuter it. It is not rage or celebration, its pissing privilege up a wall.

  4. December 7, 2013, 8:31 pm

    David Belt

    Founder, Macro Sea

    I was asked to participate as a panelist for a charette hosted by a public design collaborative in philadelphia. The participants were all urban planners, architects, and designers, brought together for a design challenge. The challenge was to come up with design solutions that would energize four specific abandoned industrial lots in philly that were areas that had been experiencing crimes including vandalism and violence.

    There was one lot in particular that was riddled with broken glass and other detritus and no matter how many times the city would clean it up they were unable to stop people from smashing 40’s and other bottles on the site. The participants were all trying to figure out a way to use the lot and to engage the community and stop people from smashing glass. One audience member stood up and said “I love smashing glass. Lets just make it a place to go and smash glass.” She was joking. I thought it was an amazing idea. Thats how Glassphemy! was conceived.

    I had become sick and tired of people hiding behind the self righteousness of “green design” and thinking of recycling as some sort of religious undertaking, while often missing the point of sustainability. I had also been pigeon holed as some kind of environmental activist because I had made some swimming pools out of dumpsters the year before. When I tried to explain that my motivation was less about a political or environmental statement and more about creating a mobile swimming pool (the dumpsters were perfect for this), it was kind of treated as blasphemy. People really wanted it to be motivated by something else.

    Glassphemy! was designed to be an installation that responded to what I saw as the extreme hypocrisy of the use of recycling as a “guilt reliever” of a certain class of consumer. I asked my friends and collaborators at Macro Sea to help me think about the question.

    We decided we wanted people to throw bottles at each other and then have to deal with the after effect, the smashed glass. We wanted it to be a recycling of emotion rather than just materials. It was meant to be a visceral experience, and a thought provoking installation based on the “lets just make a place to smash glass” comment.

    The woman in the audience was right about one thing – it really was fun to smash the glass.

    We smashed a lot of glass. The best event we did was one for veterans of the iraq war joined by the glass blowing fine art community in Brooklyn. The artists brought crappy glass projects that were clogging their studio shelves for years, and the veterans smashed the work by throwing it at them (of course the artists were behind the safety wall). The artists then melted down the glass and created new pieces. We listened to a lot of heavy metal that night and had a lot of fun.

    Thank you for including us in this amazing exhibit. We are truly honored. We are even honored by the snarky comments (above). Although the comments are meant to be an attack on our project, they are very fitting and appropriate as they are exactly the kind of discursive discourse that made us want to do Glassphemy! in the first place. So again, thank you Paola and Jamer for including us.

    – David Belt, Macro Sea

  5. December 7, 2013, 9:05 pm

    Constantin Boym

    Many garbage-collecting sites (so-called transfer stations) in upstate New York feature enormous open dumpsters for collecting glass. Over the years, I observed an overwhelming majority of people smashing their bottles rather than quietly putting them in. My small son quickly picked on this, and usually asked me if he could smash some glass too. David Belt is correct to observe that glass-breaking as activity delivers instant psychological satisfaction – or release (not being a doctor, I am unable to delve into this further).

    Years later, we did a public performance project with GlassLab in Miami, called Phoenix, where glass disks had to be smashed in front of the audience to be immediately reused in making new pieces. Everyone had fun, and some nice objects, decorated with broken glass shards, came out of this experiment.

    Why some people are angry at all this, is beyond me.

  6. December 7, 2013, 11:39 pm

    IVAN

    I was there. I experienced the Glassphemy! I had a blast. It made me feel. It was street level, street legal. It left an impression, got me a-thinkin’ and ultimately did more to influence my behavior vis-a-vis sustainability than any of the pontificators and their treatises will. There’s sex and then there’s the ivory tower /mausoleum gang. The usual skirmish.

  7. December 8, 2013, 2:00 am

    Bert

    You’re a good man Belt and you do good work. You deserve a good wall and a good bullet.

  8. December 8, 2013, 4:21 pm

    Laura Heyman

    I’m not sure I understand the critique. The project places an aesthetic and performative framework around an activity that is already in wide, indeed, almost constant circulation. It’s an act almost everyone in the world has experienced at some point. The activity is voluntary, costs nothing, and no one gets hurt. In fact, no one gets angry. It’s difficult in this context to say that the act is destructive, since the objects in question (empty glass bottles) were going to be destroyed anyway. In one form of recycling, they would be broken by a machine, in this form they are broken by human beings.

    In regard to the question of whether this type of recycling is particularly useful and/or beneficial (all the glass smashed, bottles not cleaned beforehand, colors unseparated); this is the same form of recycling organized by hundreds of different municipalities around the US. It’s difficult to fault the organizers for following what is in fact standard practice, efficient, or not.

    So, some people get together, hang out, break and recycle some glass. From this perspective, the piece could easily be place in a social practice framework. Interestingly, the individuals who created Glassphemy resist the temptation to attach this type of easy, feel-good political activism to the project, and insist it be taken exactly for what it is.

  9. December 8, 2013, 4:32 pm

    DFO

    There is no “opposition” to Glassphemy! And to say that there is, and to say as well that only those with a “superficial understanding of sustainability” can participate in it is at once pompous and patronizing. Our support of and delight in Glassphemy! by no means suggests ignorance to the crisis we’re in the midst of, or of apathy toward it. This may be the case for some, but certainly not for all.

    The question, though, really, regardless of these questions, is one of ends. Is recyclable material being recycled, and is it being recycled responsibly? The answer, of course, is yes.

    So, pardon my French, who the fuck cares about its means? Of course I say this with some reserve. It’s my point that remains. I want to recycle the glass I use in the form of bottles. I’ve always wanted to break those bottles—because, admit it, the sound of a breaking bottle, and the feeling that comes from breaking that bottle yourself, hurling the bottle into a solid wall and watching the bottle explode, is nothing if not supremely satisfying—but I don’t just break my bottles helter-skelter with a fuck-all tude because, as a responsible human, I know the myriad consequences of it. But now I’m afforded this opportunity to do just that, and in a way that not only satisfies my primal urge but simultaneously acknowledges the absurdity of that urge, or rather, the absurdity of our present condition, which we ourselves have created, which is that we’re destroying the planet with our garbage—shitting where we eat, over and over and over—even as we’ve separated ourselves from the planet, and from our basic nature as creatures on it.

    And there’s nothing trivial whatsoever about Glassphemy! To the contrary, it represents a supreme parody. Through it, we engage in the very activity we’re condemning, but in a way that turns that activity on its head. Those of us who can’t see this, it seems, have spent too much time in their heads and not enough in the world they claim to want to save, and would do well to sit under a tree for a time to consider their dilemma. Or maybe they should just lighten up, head down to Glassphemy!, and see how it feels to break a bottle or two or ten.

  10. December 8, 2013, 7:54 pm

    Aaron Cedolia

    fun

    Though I have not seen the project in person, this looks interesting and fun to me and is something I would participate in. David Belt’s comments on the impetus of the project and how it came to fruition make a lot of sense. He and his team were listening to and were inspired by members of the community and created a project based on this inspiration. What else can we ask for? Well done, Macro Sea, keep it up.

    Aaron

  11. December 9, 2013, 1:35 am

    Matt

    The entitlement culture of the creative class is incapable of thinking about what is destroyed in order for it to be sustained (entertained). That is why the contrived and politically aloof posturing over liberal environmentalism makes you look like complete wankers and earns the ire of people, particularly those who have to take this shit seriously in order to live.

    To create ‘under-utlised space’ people have to be evicted, moved on, beaten, and criminalised. There are many youth, anti-racist, homeless, and sex-worker activists involved in hard, unacknowledged, thankless and unglamorous struggle against gentrification, so to suggest that Glassphemy is a counter point to something ‘feel good’ is fucking ridiculous. It is the epitome of ‘feel good’. That’s its whole schtick. You smash the bottles, you feel good, and then go back to whatever you were doing before. To suggest that the experience is somehow liberating or transformative is absurd. Be honest: this is a ritual for affirming cultural privilege. It does not change social relations, political commitments or everyday practices (it actually appropriates everyday experience, turning smashed bottles into a fetish that accumulates cultural capital for professional gentrifiers. The socio-material conditions that produced the original act of smashing bottles remains unthought and unaffected, possibly even exacerbated).

    Liberal environmentalism must be critiqued and countered, but this is not how you do it. This is how you avoid confrontation with hard questions, genuine responsibility, and serious political commitment.

  12. December 9, 2013, 5:41 am

    Laura Heyman

    The project is not the messenger or forerunner of gentrification. Let’s be frank; the spaces in which these events are taking place have already been gentrified.

    Generally most people (at least those reading this blog) can agree that gentrification has a hugely negative impact on any and every neighborhood it takes over. Also, there are many activists doing great work which goes unacknowledged. We can probably all agree on these two things at least. But this is not necessarily the fault of “the creative class”.

    The project has resisted being contextualized as activism, or even “community action” . That is a framework being projected on the piece, not one claimed by the artists who made it. Even the recycling is secondary. The project makes no claim to change “The socio-material conditions that produced the original act of smashing bottles”. It’s important to point that out. For me, this is the most interesting aspect.

  13. December 10, 2013, 4:05 pm

    Maria Aiolova

    Glassphemy! was a well-aimed and remarkably entertaining form of institutional critique. It was not a glass recycling station. It was not about the “creative class”, “community activism” or “gentrification”. It was a performance art installation and it should be judged as such. Kudos to David Belt for creating it, and to Paola Antonelli for placing it in MoMA.

  14. December 11, 2013, 3:21 am

    tucker viemeister

    Smashed!

    I love smashing things: bottles and even potatoes! The good news is that i don’t like damaging things – this project is a good use of violence – even the name: GLASSPHEMY is walking on the wild side!

  15. December 12, 2013, 10:33 pm

    Jason Krugman

    This project was one of the more amazing and ridiculous ones that I have been a part of. Working underneath the structure to modify the vibration-sensitive lights while bottles were thrown was not the most pleasant experience but looking back I enjoyed the thrill. I am still not sure what, if anything Glassphemy! means, but it was visceral and unique, and I am hoping that it will eventually be displayed in the MoMA’s atrium.

  16. December 12, 2013, 10:55 pm

    Sarah Krasley

    making light of a dirty little secret

    I have worked as a sustainability practitioner for a long time and I read this piece as exposing a the dirty little secret of sustainability in a really accessible and humorous way. Depending on what you’re measuring as a sustainability benefit, residential curbside recycling does relatively little to mitigate global carbon emissions. We feel really good about ourselves for doing it, but if we really did an environmental inventory and assessment of our personal lives, there are other things we consume and do that are probably way more impactful. I read this piece kind of like this: the act of throwing the bottle symbolizes the futility of curbside recycling, but also that “feel good” moment of doing something good for the environment. On the other side, those on the receiving end of the shattered bottle absorb or are startled by an aggressive gesture that doesn’t really change very much on its own…..regardless of whether my reading of this piece was anywhere near what was intended, (I love the sound of) breaking glass…

  17. December 13, 2013, 3:32 am

    Terry Stacey

    ASC

    Anyone who can find criticism in ‘Glassphemy’ seem to be confused in their own smug self-righteousness. It’s not about environmental activism, more a visceral celebration of life. art, matter, and above all fun.
    Not just to be gazed upon. Alive. Irreverent. Inspiring.
    Thats Macro Sea for you.

  18. May 1, 2016, 11:03 pm

    […] …to releasing pent-up aggression and frustrations in David Belt’s Glassphemy! (2010): […]

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