RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency) regularly hosts visiting artists to source materials and produce site-specific projects within its construction and demolition recycling facility in the Tacony neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia. RAIR’s hosts, Revolution Recovery, receive over 450 tons of reusable waste each day. For Monument Lab, RAIR lead artists and co-directors Billy Dufala and Lucia Thomé envisioned a sculpture for Penn Treaty Park that would express the tensions between Philadelphia's identity as a green, sustainable city and its current building boom. The park site is named for the treaty between William Penn and Lenape Chief Tamanend. It was there that the city of Philadelphia was founded, in a meeting that took place under a massive elm tree, later referred to as the “Penn Treaty Elm.” Plainsight Is 20/20 featured an enormous excavator holding a large, uprooted tree—two objects regularly found in construction sites in the city. The construction equipment, wrapped in metallic vinyl, was meant to stand out from and reflect the landscape; the tree, diverted from the waste stream, was exhibited roots and all. They were presented together, behind an eight-foot-tall construction fence in Penn Treaty Park, as a symbol of the messy, prevailing culture of rapid redevelopment.
Location: Site 06: Penn Treaty Park
Maple tree, excavator, mirrored vinyl, and construction fencing
Plainsight Is 20/20 Collaborators
Doosan, Best Line, Revolution Recovery, Delaware River Corporation, American Treescapes, Rockland, and Image360
City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and Friends of Penn Treaty Park
For Monument Lab, the artist team of Lucia Thome and Billy Dufala comprising RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency) will exhibit a sculpture consisting of two parts: an uprooted tree salvaged from a waste stream and a large excavator wrapped in reflective chrome film. Set along the margin of Penn Treaty Park, the sculpture absorbs the passing activities and surroundings in its reflective surfaces. In effect, it becomes hidden in plain sight.
RAIR sees the two parts of their project as dialectically tethered, with the earth-moving machine representing industry spurred by the economy while the tree signals depletion and displacement. The tree as a part of nature converted to culture can also symbolize growth and prosperity, as well as grassroots histories and community perspectives.
RAIR’s art is centrally concerned with the question of waste and recuperation. Their proposal is a monument to this moment of intense change in Philadelphia due to developmental pressures, demanding an interregnum in terms of a questioning of the assumption that growth is always for the better. They see this work as a microcosm of Philadelphia’s changing green urban landscape.
About the Artist
RAIR is a nonprofit organization that builds awareness about sustainability issues through art and design. Situated inside a construction and demolition waste recycling company in northeast Philadelphia, RAIR offers artists studio space and access to more than 350 tons of materials per day. Since 2010, RAIR has provided a unique platform for artists to work at the intersection of art, industry, and sustainability, while producing content that challenges perceptions of waste culture.
Banner: Plainsight Is 20/20, RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency). Maple tree, excavator, and mirrored vinyl. Penn Treaty Park. Photo: Lucia Thome.