For Earth Day, one man's trash is, well, trash

DM1TRASH21-d
Bradley Maule goes through a pile of plastic bags that he found during his garbage pickups in the Wissahickon Valley so they can be transformed into the "Tower of Garbage" he is creating April 13, 2015.( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

Bradley Maule will not be exhibiting the banana peels and dog poop bags, the tissues and condoms, the huge wooden pallet, the old tires, the sofa bed, the pile of broken Adirondack chairs, or the "two gigantic plastic PVC pipes."

Organics and big, big stuff are out, he said. But never fear, there's plenty of weirdness.

When Maule unveils his Wissahickon Valley Park booty - collected over the course of a year's worth of weekly woodland rambles - for exhibition Wednesday, Earth Day, devotees of the strange will not be disappointed.

They will be able to ponder the likes of three used pregnancy kits, a Ziploc bag full of wallet-size photographs of a baby goat (in color), a stack of religious pamphlets ("Are Roman Catholics Christians?"), American flags, two holographic-skull Halloween decorations, two nondecorative raccoon skulls, an Ocean City, N.J., beach tag, and a big-eyed plastic girl in a two-piece bathing suit.

All this and a lot more forms part of Maule's exhibition, "One Man's Trash," on display until June 26 in the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. It is the first of several events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the neoclassical Water Works, constructed between 1812 and 1815 on a bank of the Schuylkill.

With a big assist from the Friends of the Wissahickon and the city's Parks and Recreation Department - they handled the big stuff - Maule went on long hikes once a week, every week, in 2014, all over the Wissahickon Valley section of Fairmount Park.

His mission was to bring out every bit of trash he could carry.

It was a lot.

"Aluminum beer cans were the most common, and there were 347 of those," Maule said the other day while arranging the exhibition with Victoria A. Prizzia, founder of Habitheque Inc., a design and installation firm assisting the Water Works with planning and exhibitions.

"One Man's Trash" is a kind of found-art installation, but the trash is not transmuted into art as in L.A.'s famous Watts Towers; rather, it remains trash. Maule is, however, arranging it artfully in the room past the old Water Works turbines.

"One of the Tumblr sites that I've looked at is Things Organized Neatly - just a bunch of things organized," he said. "I was thinking of replicating something like that, things organized neatly."

He and Prizzia are hanging enormous translucent plastic bags, sorted by function and material, from the ceiling. Bags of beer cans, bags of plastic soda bottles, bags of water bottles, a bag "devoted to Wawa" - all will droop like enormous polyps from the ceiling.

A center column will be completely covered with adroitly placed plastic snack bags. Bags for Dove Bars and Fritos, Jack Link's Beef Jerky and Sour Patch Kids. And many bags of idiosyncratic potato chip brands, like Home Girl, whose proud motto is, "It's all that."

Potato chips aside, as Prizzia noted after hours of taping bags to the column, "we're a Dorito-eating city."

Lots of Doritos bags.

And we tend to toss them wherever. Which drives Maule up the wall, so much so that he left Philadelphia in 2009 to live in clean, green Portland, Ore., for four years before coming back to the city nearest his heart.

Big-bearded and friendly, 38-year-old Maule loves Philadelphia, if not its trash. The exhibition he's curating, in a rather encyclopedic manner, is partly educational - he wants increased awareness of the negative impact of trash on the watershed.

Maule, as it happens, is a collector, of pine cones and seashells, organized neatly at home. Seashells are to admire; trash is to revile; hence the vaguely sinister batlike hanging bags.

"I hope people come away with the idea that it's really not OK to do this," he said, casting an eye over his masses of junk. "If you go to the Toleration statue [north of the Walnut Lane Bridge], which is a really beautiful part of the park, and you're looking down the valley, do you want to arrive at this place that's a destination and have it covered with orange peels or banana peels? How hard is it to take it with you? . . . One time, I swear to God, people had a Tootsie Roll party there. There were 31 wrappers of Tootsie Rolls. . . . "

In addition to trash organized neatly, the exhibition will include photographs of the Wissahickon's Devil's Pool by Sarah K. Kaufman, a visiting professor of art at Ursinus College, and posters exploring the interrelationship of area watersheds, the impact of trash, and the work of the city Water Department.

 


For events celebrating the Water Works' Bicentennial, visit the Water Works website: http://fairmountworks.com

ssalisbury@phillynews.com

215-854-5594

@SPSalisbury