Jacki McInnes

House 38 (Lead sheet, Size variable)

House 38 (Lead sheet, Size variable)

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Artist's Statement

“We bring the rich people’s dustbins back here and we do their dirty work.” Portia Gcobisa Zungula, informal recycler, House 38. South Africa, judged to have one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, is an absurd mish-mash of first world wealth clashing up against mass unemployment, poverty and displacement. And while the rich get richer, the poor must become increasingly resourceful in the business of everyday survival. The recycling of paper, plastic, tin and glass is generally perceived to be the preserve of prosperous, stable nations. But in South Africa, the informal recycling of these materials has established itself as one of the few accessible means by which the urban poor can generate an income.

House 38 probes the experiences and rationales of a community of informal recyclers living at House 38 in downtown Johannesburg. This is a bleak place: two storeys high, the ground floor is taken up by a panel beating outfit; the upper two are home to around 200 people. There’s hardly a pane of glass left in the windows. There’s no running water, no electricity, and the stairwell and inter-leading passages double as storage space for reeking, recyclable trash. But House 38 is a site of initiative, hard work and even harder-won self-determination. House 38 becomes a memorial of sorts to the thankless yet valuable role played by informal recyclers. Lead objects, replicating the trash they collect, become tokens, both to the permanence of man’s devastating impact on the planet and to the positive environmental role played by informal recyclers, whether inadvertent or not. I would like to thank John Hodgkiss for his invaluable support and skill in the photo-documentation of this ongoing project.

Artist's Biography

Born: Durban, 1966. Lives and works in Johannesburg. Received her BA(FA) (with distinction) from UNISA in 2001 and her MFA from the University of Cape Town in 2004. Major exhibitions: ABSA Gallery, Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill and Gordart Gallery, in Johannesburg; Bell Roberts Contemporary, AVA Gallery and South African National Gallery, in Cape Town; Fried Contemporary, Pretoria; Christoph Merian Stiftung, Basel, Switzerland.