The Filth and the Stew and the Fury
By G Lucas Crane and Nat Roe, on behalf of The Silent Barn
Summer 2012, Brooklyn, New York
p.07, Shadow Spaces, edited by Steve Mykietyn
Living collectively is a sin insofar as being alive and covering everything with gunk is a sin. Humans love restaurants and hotels and clubs. Someone else cleans up. We get to be big party babies, throw our shit everywhere and then get back to our clean apartments and forget what being alive has wrought.
Compress all sound made inside a cavernous urban space over the course of, say, a party. The resulting sonic data sounds like a mixture of meat being ripped from bones and a motor coming apart at 120 rpms. Or like the braying of hell hounds mixed with the screams of orgasm. Overlay it with a back-beat and you get the carnal horror that is any given moment.
This beautiful, and terrible and irreducibly basic sound-horror has a potent physical analogue in the accretion of cast off leavings. Fun breeds a terrible sculptural sublimity. Small sculpture gardens of carefully poised filth are created by parties and daily life alike. Lives intersecting randomly create tiny installations in a “museum of people coming over and hanging a lot”.
A small art installation of geometrically folded paper placed in one corner. It’s A+ art from conception to production to installation, and we are better for it. But across the room, in the far corner, lay another installation that could be considered pure art only after months of random collection yielded to the poetry of composed form: a single black human hair, stuck in a petrified marshmallow, stuck to the top of the toe of a Chuck Taylor sneaker cut in half, crammed in a crushed 16oz beer can, wrapped in a black plastic bag, perched in a bed of underwear and take-out rice in foil. Amazing.
Before we got trash picked up by a carting service, we paid moving rates to a crook who was gouging us to back a box truck up and fill it with trash, taking trash from our dump to everybody’s dump. We could only afford this everyone once in a while. So until we could get the box truck crook to show up, we had to store this trash.
Trash from shows and weird cooking. Coffee grounds. Uncomposted vegetable leavings. Uncompressed milk cartons with a small amount of lazy milk in the corner. A million beer cans, each with beer in the bottom, wherein floated one cigarette. The trash could only be half looked at, because there was so much of it. Yes, it was shameful. We wanted to ignore it like you ignore the vomit next to the only vacant seat on the subway. But you can’t when it’s always there, leering at you through fraying garbage bags.
There was a cinderblock hallway in the back where we would make a garbage wall. The rats would climb and chew through the bags at random points making the Swiss cheese garbage bag wall ooze and effervesce. There was still a small standing space, just large enough to open the door. I used to find people here arguing or making out, or smoking cigarettes furiously. It was an emotional area, and its bubbly putridness would underscore any conversation or exchange like a symphony. I used to stand there, staring at the wall of trash, feeling disgust but also the boundary of my disgust, the razor’s edge of what is horrible. And sometimes, deep inside, I felt that boundary move.
Sometimes I felt a connection with this trash. There was a responsibility and a shame at producing it and only kinda dealing with it. But there was also a pride at what this filth represented - a thousand amazing parties, a thousand delicious meals, ten thousand beautiful kids laughing and dancing under clamp lights. Being alive and together in infinite fecund togetherness radiating outwards in a shining spider web of mucous. I was one with the filth at that moment. I loved it. I loved the beer cans and the rats and the pile of rotten milk up to my shoulders. It was beautiful and my disgust flaked away like dead skin in the shower.
One winter it was just too cold to do anything outside, and so we experimented with keeping the trash wall in the basement, at the bottom of the stairs. We piled it up around the electrical meters, for convenience, and when he arrived, to have something to talk to the meter reader man about. “That’s......that’s a lot of rats...” he would say quietly.
This set up led to the most artful filth art installation we ever had. It waited in a secret corner, only catching my eye because I knew where to look for our little filth diorama.
The inside trash experience didn’t last too long. Hot trash is infinitely harder to accept bodily than cold trash. Cold trash moves by itself less. We piled the trash wall to the ceiling as always, and the fact that it was inside led the occupying rat swarm to find new holes in the ceiling and upper wall to explore. Since our electrical wiring was never up to code, a lot of conduit outside the walls and ceiling carried the household current. Many of these conduits were installed shoddily and had slipped at the edges, exposing bare wires.
And so it came to pass that a rat entering a hole in the ceiling from the surrounding bags of oozing trash completed a filth-circuit with an exposed wire and was electrocuted. Lucky for us, he was charged with so much electricity that the poor beast went past the “explosion” phase and went right to the “having all flesh stripped from bones” phase. He instantly became a mummy, reaching out with a little clawed skeleton hand.
We got rid of the trash wall shortly, concluding the horrible experiment in urban shame. I cleaned up the basement and started having shows again. I always eyed the little corpse when I came down the stairs, feeling his dead eyes simultaneously condemning me for his death and supporting me for the awesome show we were invariably having. He was my little secret, until one night, cleaning up after a show, I discovered that someone had stuck a cigarette butt in his ribcage. “I found this, and I know what it is to make a joke out it, but look, his ribcage is smoking!” Someone at the show knew. Look, they put the cig in filter first. I felt too much weird reverence to touch it.
Later that month, there was a band playing in the basement who blew glitter and tiny pompoms everywhere. You cannot ever win against glitter, you will clean it up forever. Glitter is the genital herpes of DIY venues. Cleaning the larger glitter dunes up, I looked up in the secret rat corner to find that a tiny red pompom had lighted effortlessly upon his craggy outstretched claw. Now, the tiny skeletal cheerleader who smoked from his ribcage was a masterpiece in my eyes, no longer simply the evidence of years of fucked up storms of filth. The rat was but a microcosm of the obscure glory of having people over all the time. We had done it. We had reached a unique state. Even the dead smoking rats were cheering us on.