- Elegy for the Anthropocene
Revolution Recovery is a waste management facility in Northeast Philadelphia. A field of tall grass and a chain-link fence divides the site from the Delaware River, the waterway to which this once-industrial city owes its existence. The river is still a major shipping and transportation conduit today, with crude oil making up about half of the cargo that floats down it each year. Every once in a while, there is a spill, and hundreds of thousands of gallons are released into the water, polluting miles of shoreline in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. State advisories discourage “high risk” individuals from eating fish caught here. The river wends its way through cities that were once major manufacturing centers and are now better known for things like exceptionally high rates of violent crime. Upstream, the slogan TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES, now an ironic anachronism, is still emblazoned in neon lights on the side of one of that city’s prominent bridges.
It is a place that bears the traces and the scars of mankind’s most strenuous efforts to bend the landscape to its will. Revolution Recovery is where some of the less prepossessing evidence of those efforts ends up. Heaps of demolition and construction site refuse stand twenty and thirty feet tall. Cracked wooden pallets, crumbling sheet rock, ripped-up carpeting, and soiled cardboard are well represented. A few unusual artifacts call attention to themselves—a large, matte-framed print of an elegantly appointed colonial era African-American cavalry-man, bending down from his mount to bid a tender farewell to his sweetheart, lies at the foot of a pile of miscellaneous debris—but mostly one is less aware of individual items than of the overwhelming mass. Revolution Recovery recycles over 250 tons of material every day, in small part though an unusual partnership with Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR). Founded in 2010 by Revolution Recovery owner Avi Golen, local artist Billy Dufala, and industrial designer Fern Gookin, RAIR is a nonprofit organization that provides artists with studio space [End Page 47] and access to materials salvaged from the waste stream. Its mission is to build awareness about sustainability issues through art and design.
All during the week, the yard is a hive of activity, with workers operating heavy machinery, hauling junk to and fro. But on this Saturday, April 22—Earth Day, as it happens—all is deserted. Vehicles stand idle. The wind blows the occasional lightweight bit of detritus loose, but silence and stillness prevail. We are gathered here today for the second of four “River Charrettes,” one of the many branches of The Quiet Circus, a larger performance project by Philadelphia’s Headlong Dance Theater.
The Quiet Circus is an exercise in mindfulness, an experiment with “subliminal performance,” and an evolving work of social practice. The project grew out of Headlong Co-Artistic Director David Brick’s interest in meditation, among other things, and in creating a process-oriented performance that was less a “show” than a practice one could return to again and again to do work on the piece and the self. The event at RAIR is the only time The Quiet Circus comes to Revolution Recovery. Ordinarily, it can be found downstream at the Washington Avenue Pier, a high-volume nineteenth-century immigration entry point that has been converted into a park. The Quiet Circus pitches its tent, so to speak, there on Saturdays from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M., though depending on when you happen to pass by, you might not realize that you are witnessing a performance at all.
A highly porous enterprise, Quiet Circus grows and changes from week to week in response to the impulses of its creators and those of unsuspecting passersby. Performers spend the first half of the piece ranging through the park solo, engaged in creating a Luminous World. By allowing themselves to become infinitesimally more attuned to their environment and by giving themselves tasks that enhance this attunement, performers generate charged zones of hypersensitivity in what is...