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Title: Wastescapes : invisible infrastructures of maintenance work

Author: a film by Ben Parry with Compound 13 Lab

Length: 15 mins

Credit line: This film is supported by ACORN Foundation, India,

Global Challenges Research Fund,

Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK.


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 in the ocean. India generates around 3.4 million tons of plastic per year, of which 60 - 80% is recycled. India therefore boasts one of the highest rates of plastic recycling in the world, but in the absence of a comprehensive municipal waste management policy or state-supported recycling, the circular economy in cities like Mumbai largely relies on the informal self-organisation of the poor, living and working in precarious and risky conditions. This short film is intended to provoke debate about the 'story of waste', challenging received notions of disposable products, materials and people, reflecting on labour, urban inequalities and the 'biopolitics of disposability'.It tells the story of the journeys that waste materials make through the informal recycling industry in Dharavi, Mumbai, where each week thousands of tons of hard waste are sorted, cleaned, and processed. Tens of thousands of people work in this industry: they make a huge contribution as unrecognised ‘green collar workers’ to cutting the amount of waste that goes to landfill and incineration, and reducing the region’s carbon footprint. Compound 13 Lab, hosted by ACORN India, explores livelihoods and alternative futures, working closely with people engaged in repair and recycling work across the neighbourhood.


Ben Parry is Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of the MA in Curatorial Practice.  He works as an artist, curator and independent researcher at the intersections of art, activism and urban space. Investigating the role of public space as a site for social change, and art as a tool for creating spaces in which to imagine alternative futures, his practice-based research takes diverse forms: from site-responsive interventions, documentary and exhibition to collaborative and community-led projects.

In 2000, he co-founded artist-run space Jump Ship Rat in Liverpool. He subsequently curated exhibitions, commissioned artists projects in public space and produced much of his own work under the umbrella of Jump Ship Rat. He is editor of the book Cultural Hijack: Rethinking Intervention (Liverpool University Press, 2012), an anthology of artists’ personal reflections and theoretical readings on urban art intervention. This work evolved into the ongoing curatorial project Cultural Hijack: an international survey exhibition, set of symposia and live-programme of urban intervention and art activism, staged at the Architectural Association, London in 2013; Archip, Institute of Architecture, Prague in 2017, and in Delhi, 2018. Working under the International Peripatetic Sculptors Society (IPSS) he is regularly invited to cities around the world to conduct participatory adventures through urban environments, whose performance-based methods fuse the Situationist tradition of derive with the creation of spontaneous interventions. He is a participating artist within the interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research network on the regeneration of Waterfront Heritage Zones, working in Glasgow, Govan Graving Docks and Gdansk Shipyards.

In 2012-13, during an artist residency at URBZ, Mumbai he initiated a collaboration with Acorn Foundation India, together with residents of the workers colony in Dharavi’s recycling district, to map the destruction and displacement of their communities situated along the city’s main water pipeline. In 2017, he returned to Mumbai, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, to continue working with Acorn Foundation in developing an urban ecology and design lab in Dharavi, alongside colleagues at the Centre for Water and Agroecology at Coventry University, the School of Media, Culture & Society at the University of the West of Scotland and Shiv Nadar University, New Delhi.

Ben received his BA in Environmental Art from Glasgow School of Art, MCD in Urban Planning from the University of Liverpool, and PhD from the University of West of Scotland.

See video here


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