class struggle

20181210: Wet | Dry

We met Holding Graz at 9am near the Technische Universität. The tour was led by Herr Neumeister who explicitly asked not to be filmed, though he was happy to allow me to mic him for the audio tour, which he led in German. Martin Regelsberger acted as translator and Doubting Thomas. Two additional Holding Graz employees bookcased our tour group, which was about eight artists in total. Almost everyone had a camera with them.

We descended a flight of stairs into the sewer; a wide, channelized stream of clean, clear water flanked on either side by a pedestrian walkway, almost the width of a sidewalk, each flanked by a narrow, 20 cm stream of channelized wastewater, bordering the walls which arched at five meters. Overhead lights cast 4400 kelvin daylight into the segment for the tour. A wooden plank bridged the Grazbach, and Mr. Neumeister began his performance on the sewer stage.

“Das ist schmutzwasser.”

The sewer had been made in response to a fatal flood in 1860.

We came to two channelized rivers that merged into one. The name of one river was named Krabbe, referring to the once abundance of crabs found therein. Mr. Neumeister leapt over a tree branch that partially blocked the the stream and stood at the edge of the Krabbe. Graffiti on the walls explained how bikes could be found there. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and we traveled about five city blocks before surfacing through a door that rose from a sidewalk.

In the evening, Joachim Hainzl starting drawing a map of the city on a notepad. First the old city, east and adjacent to the Mur, walled with a southern gate. The green ring, now the Stadt Park, around the Innere Stadt, was once an open area necessary for defense. Jakomini Platz, developed by a benevolent landowner from what is now Slovenia, was a suburban expansion of the city for a new merchant class. Across the river a series of transportation corridors developed: for a road to Trieste, which had been the Habsburg port, extended up to Vienna. Those working in the profession stayed in the hotels and frequented brothels, both of which were still found in that part of the city. A railway was laid next to the highway, which explained the location of the Hauptbahnhof outside of the city center. The goods that were transported were produced in the industrial centers outside the expanding city, then found in the north, Andritz, west and south. The rail line snaked around the center. The workers for these jobs were housed in the urban developments still found in the neighborhoods, Graz-Neuhart and Puntigamer, which border the industrial zones. This was how Joachim began talking about Foucault, power, and the separation of wet and dry.

Joachim had a massive collection of cigarette boxes. The 55,000+ boxes were his material guide through cultural and colonial history. The collection took up one large, front room of his flat, covering one wall from floor to ceiling and several stacks of cardboard crates through which one must navigate upon entering the room. He showed me several from Vietnam. I was happy to explain the brand Thủ Đô, which commemorated the movement of the capital to from Huế to Hà Nôi, 1954-1964. To collect the packages he looks into garbage bins whenever he travels. Airports were the best.

Joachim explained his love for garbage dating back to his childhood in which he and his sister would wander over the landfill on their family’s property looking for toys. He wore his upbringing on his sleeve and made no apologies for his aspiration for middle class status, power, all the while attempting to subvert the same echelons to which he clambered. He talked about trash in the same way an unattractive man who is adored by a volatile woman finally finds his pride in being pursued. There was an emotional connection, as if the disregard of society were his relative, an abusive step father who sent him to military academy where he had found order, discipline and the animosity of other children but still revered his father.

Joachim described the landfill as ten toy shops, where everything was free. The estranged material had been his artistic material for decades. He aimed to imbue value back into waste by naming it ‘art’ and certifying its authenticity.

The parallel between material waste and social waste is not just in the vernacular used to describe entities that reside in the sphere of disutility, but also targets that demonstrate the power it is to determine something or someone useless. Just as the recycled plastics and metals must be re-used, the criminal must be re-socialized. In the contemporary context, Joachim saw the jobs which were given to immigrants as a repetition of these practices. They were park bathroom cleaners, servants. This was the thesis of Joachim’s study and the trajectory that his work has taken, or rather the reality against which he orientates his work. Joachim reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Michel Foucault.

“...the same walls could contain those condemned by common law, young men who disturbed their families’ peace or squandered their goods, people without profession, and the insane.” [1]

In order to apply the correct treatment, materials–wet or dry–must be separated. Similarly criminals in the 18th century were separated to inhibit the veterans from fostering the novices. The Eastern State Penitentiary is the manifestation of this rationale, the first prison intended for redemption through a direct relation to God, expressing penitence, of course possible only through solitary confinement. 1811.

The plan to separate rain and wastewater from the Mur, in order to treat it was being extended through the development of the Speicherkanal.

Joachim was suspicious toward the mantra of modernity, which he identified as part of the urge for the Zentraler Speicherkanal. In his recounting of the history of sewers in Graz, and the sinkholes which caused contamination of the groundwater, I heard the layers of his disdain and jealousy that his vast research had uncovered; the blatant prioritization of urbanites over the villages downstream; the exercise of political and social power over the less fortunate; and the calcification of these intangible realities in the progress and contestation of the Speicherkanal. “Everything that is culture is good. Everything that is nature or natural urges, desires, is bad.” If one eats too fast, farts or belches–all natural impulse–the person is deemed uncultured, impolite. Perhaps even worse, they were against modernity. Each time Joachim uttered the word ‘bourgeois’ I thought we were nearing the conflagration.

Within the homes of the middle and upper classes, hollow shoots led from interior toilets, down into the cellar where barrels stored the excrement. Laborers hauled these barrels up wooden ramps, which could still be seen Joachim’s apartment. Into my mind came the image of a scheduled worker, hauling drums of heavy human waste, stinking, slopping and spilling onto the street. Shit and piss dripping down the stairs of the basement. Perhaps a servant had a partial duty to clean up the shit, toiling down in the dark, damp cellar. Industries of fertilization and recycling of the excrement arose from the biosolids, but the middle class retaliated by questioning why they should have to pay for a service of hauling away barrels of shit if someone else were profiting from it, and through their protest the middle class forced these companies into bankruptcy. Later the barrels were hauled to a peripheral part of the city, where everything that was unwanted and everything that stank–the slaughterhouse, the cemetery–were dumped off bridges into the Mur. These bridges were still used for dumping snow into the Mur. This was the same part of the city in which Schaumbad was located. Most pointedly, all of these peripheral operations occurred across the Mur, the original, natural and current dividing line of class and culture in Graz.

Later hotels and the homes of upper class introduced water closets, which emptied into the same barrels. But the amount of the fluid used to flush the toilets filled the barrels too quickly. Holes were punctured in the barrels so as to let the water escape, and again the groundwater was contaminated. Again in the name of ‘modernity.’ The water closets were outlawed in response to the contagions, but the power of the upper class, driven by the urge to modernize, changed the law and connected the technology to the channelized sewers. The anecdote illustrated the the hierarchy of power and the position of the upper class, which exude power and legislation for their own convenience, toward their biological functions. Joachim implied that again, the upper class–the business owners, the hydro-power and the mayor–were rehearsing their social renovation under the name of ‘modernity.’ In practicality it was for their own position of benefit. Again modernity had brought back old problems that required new solutions. In the creation of the hydro-power plant, the existing combined sewer overflows cannot drain, so the ZSK must be built.

The waste management industry has de-pressurized the concern for landfills, although our consumption and production habits have only worsened. Joachim’s explanation was that by merely making waste productive, the scrutiny has been alleviated from the capitalist society. The creation of the population as abstract statistics, rather than numerous persons, was a movement toward bureaucratization, which occurred from 1880 to 1910. With the dehumanization of the person to a case number, the separation of mental illness grew exponentially. Everyone had some defect, some abstract ailment manifested in their personality.

All of this discussion, or talking rather, occurred in Joachim’s library, a room opposite his cigarette collection, with floor to ceiling books, all salvaged, organized and treasured by him. The work was ongoing, having been presented as a free library to the citizens of Graz. For him the books represent his aspirations for the middle class, to be in academia, his journey from a humble landfill to a middle-class landfill, organized and stacked to the ceiling.

[1] “Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason,” Michel Foucault, Vintage Books, New York, 1988. pp. 45