Rethinking waste and the logics of disposability: Compound 13 Lab

Lead Research Organisation: Bath Spa University
Department Name: Bath School of Art

Abstract

Since the 1950s, more than 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide. Many plastic items are used once and thrown away. As most plastics do not naturally degrade, they remain with us, usually buried in landfill or floating in the ocean. India generates around 3.4 million tons of plastic per year, of which 60 - 80% is recycled, boasting one of the highest rates of plastic recycling in the world. In 2018, the state of Maharashtra banned single use plastic, making Mumbai currently the largest city in the world to do so.

Rethinking Waste...focuses on the knowledge politics of the informal waste management industry in the 13th Compound in Dharavi, Mumbai's largest informal settlement, where members of the project team have been working within a series of partnerships established since 2012, in particular through intensive collaboration, dialogue and action research with Acorn Foundation, India. The 13th Compound processes approximately 80% of Mumbai's hard domestic waste, where up to 250,000 rag-pickers supply 40,000 people employed in grassroots recycling micro-enterprises, working in risky and unsanitary conditions. This process of self-organised work is undertaken almost entirely by those with low incomes, low social status and migrants. Most industries in Dharavi are labour-intensive, producing high levels of pollution, even though they contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the city. Hazardous and cramped working conditions, combined with poor sanitation means that a factor of such production is that it comes at the expense of human life.

Compound 13 Lab will be a space for experimental design and learning, whose innovative programme introduces design and media tools, audiovisual technologies, 3D design and digital fabrication to disadvantaged, marginalised citizens who because their socio-economic status do not normally have access to these resources, developing a learning environment that has the potential to alter their future. Inspired by the makerspace movement, it utilises the materials and resources of the recycling industry as the starting point for learning and teaching about ecological design and living solutions. Through a programme of workshops and residencies by artists, scientists, engineers and designers, the lab will share emerging tools and technologies of the circular economy with those who would not normally have access to them. The project explores a paradigm of smart city where the technologically advanced city emerges from below rather than being centrally planned and implemented. In particular, members will be able to test and innovate with various technologies, exploring the ways in which plastics can be recycled, remanufactured and remade safely, reliably and creatively.

ACORN members will have co-designed and developed a bespoke 'living curriculum' that responds to their issues, addresses their needs and aids their future goals. The implementation of the Lab is intended to create a space of enquiry where these local knowledges and practices can be communicated within and beyond Dharavi, through a process of increasingly self-organised making and learning. It will have the potential to be implemented in similar settings elsewhere; it will open up research avenues for digital fabrication industries; and may offer gateways to more skilled employment, even potentially incubating/testing new products and services made with recycled materials. The project will also host a 'hackathon' and conference exploring innovative approaches to the circular economy hosted by Makers Asylum, Mumbai. It will develop, test and share learning materials that can be used worldwide by organizations engaged with communities working in the informal circular economy.

Planned Impact

Our previous projects demonstrated that people living in challenging economic circumstances can be imaginative participants in a range of bottom-up artistic interventions (Wakeford et al 2014). We have shown that such processes enable people who are excluded from the spaces of policy discourse to live in the present differently, imagine alternative futures and build their aspirations and hope.

In the short term, each residency will involve facilitated group reflection on the learning, activities and themes. These reflective dialogues will be documented, transcribed, translated, and analysed by the project team (led by Jeffery and Hay). Throughout, we will also use our 'Reversing the Gaze' method (Parry 2015) which involves repeatedly revisiting and reviewing artefacts, images, and stories with the communities that generated them in order to develop a shared understanding of meaning and affect, rather than undertaking extractive research under a colonial gaze. In Reversing the Gaze, "The idea that emerged was to momentarily and symbolically invert the relation between researcher and subject" (Parry, 2015, p. 215) by supporting Acorn participants to interview and challenge those who come to document and interrogate the conditions in which they live. This approach will extend to the symposium at Makers Asylum, which will allow Acorn participants to directly dialogue with an audience of experts, technologists, designers, business people and policymakers. In this way we intend to share, test and discuss our approaches in order to provide a grounded proof of concept.

The project will also offer training. Throughout the process we are modelling creative, participatory pedagogies based on the idea of peer mentoring, shared enquiry and the weave of formal/informal in creative learning (Jeffery 2005). The project will offer development for Acorn staff and shared learning at multiple levels: older youth mentoring younger youth, between the research team and Acorn staff, and between residency facilitators, and outwards to the wider communities of practice.

We will develop materials designed to influence policy and learning practice, supported by expert research (Co-Is Gill, Hay). The project's primary outputs - the report, learning materials, artefacts, objects and audiovisual materials - will be produced and/or translated into Hindi and English, and also Tamil and Marathi as necessary. The peer reviewed journal articles, aimed primarily at an international audience will be written in English.

Our approach is not suited to 'logic models' because:
a) we are working in a complex, fast-moving and unstable urban environment;
b) our model of development is not imposed from outside, but is instead evolved and co-developed with the participants through a shared learning process;
c) our model is of 'creativity as agency' in which the foremost requirement is for participants to become more empowered to determine their own potential and futures (Jeffery, 2005).

Underpinning all our work is a commitment to co-design, co-creation and repeated, reflexive self-evaluation and self-critique. Throughout the project there will be a need for the research team to challenge and question our own assumptions and draw on indigenous and situated knowledges. By showing how Acorn and its partners in Compound 13 Lab can build a 'living curriculum' in response to these material conditions of oppression and hope, we plan to influence policy and practice and share resources that have wide potential for application elsewhere.

(References in Case for Support)

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Plastic Mahal (Plastic Palace) 
Description The Palace of Plastic (Plastic Mahal) is a temporary public sculpture and political performance in the mode of a processional ritual that occurs in various sites across the city of Mumbai. The temple is built from the city's waste, which aggregates in the informal recycling centre in Dharavi's 13th Compound. The Palace of Plastic is made in the collective mode of self-construction that is visible throughout the informal settlements of Indian cities. Built with and by those of the worker colonies in a choreography of waste, the temple can be seen as a celebration of the livelihoods of all those working in Mumbai's waste management chain and their handling of the city's plastic and its recycling. At the same time, challenging public perceptions of the politics of human disposability, advocating for the work of informal recyclers as essential and valued labour within wider systems of production. The co-design and co-creation process take place at the Compound 13 Lab, working with young people to explore issues of work, waste, survival and their social and political contexts. These issues are then enacted through the role of ritual and performance as dramatic means of collectively taking action, personal expression, instilling solidarity and creating visible issues that lie beneath plain sight.. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact Ongoing - this project is being curated and presented throughout 2020, and has been included in the international exhibition/academic network "Project Anywhere'. 
URL http://www.projectanywhere.net/plastic-mahal-palace-of-plastic/
 
Description The project is not yet complete. An extension has been granted until end May, 2020.
We will report on key findings next year, following completion of the project.
For all ongoing activity relating to this projecy please visit http://www.compound13.org
Exploitation Route We are actively engaging with stakeholders through a series of public events and workshops planned for the remainder of 2020
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment

URL http://www.compound13.org
 
Description Urban Infrastructures of Well-Being 2019
Amount £300,000 (GBP)
Funding ID UWB190022 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 11/2022
 
Description Urban Infrastructures of Wellbeing 2019: Waste, Water and Wellbeing: lessons from the interface of formal/informal urban systems in Dharavi, Mumbai
Amount £299,948 (GBP)
Funding ID UWB190022 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2019 
End 11/2021
 
Description Compound 13 Lab: ACORN Foundation, Mumbai 
Organisation Acorn Foundation
Country New Zealand 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Using methods developed as part of the Challenging Elites project, and linked to an AHRC follow on grant Resources of Hope: giving voice to underprivileged communities in India, we have established an urban lab in Dharavi, Mumbai. Compound 13 Lab, inspired by the makerspace movement utilises materials and resources of the recycling industry as the starting point for teaching and learning about ecological design and living solutions. Through a programme of workshops and residencies by artists, scientists, engineers and designers, the lab will share emerging tools and technologies of the 'circular economy' to those who would not normally have access to them. By equipping the lab in this way, the project proposes to develop a different paradigm of 'smart city' where the technologically advanced city emerges from below rather than being centrally planned and implemented. In particular, members will be able to test and innovate with various technologies, exploring the ways in which plastics can be recycled, remanufactured and remade safely, reliably and creatively.  Through exploring issues of waste management and recycling we want to explore the essential interdependence between the formal/informal, the 'socially included' and 'socially excluded' which are uncovered in representations of the material and imaginary city. 
Collaborator Contribution ACORN provides space, resources and employs local people as facilitators for the Lab. The formal launch of the Lab will be in April 2018.
Impact None yet - project being launched in April 2018.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Art 1st symposium on developing the art and design curriculum in India 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Public sumposia and workshop in Mumbai and Delhi as part of Indian arts education advocacy organisation's seminar/workshop series on developing creativity through visual arts education - Co-Investigator Dr Penny Hay invited as keynote speaker.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www.art1st.co.in