A teardrop mirror floats around our garden. The Honda hood ornament is bashed in on the bottom so the reflection ripples. Mortar seals the back, some of it smooth and flecked with rust, the cast of some missing metal bar, but most of it cracked crosswise off a larger body of concrete by a sledgehammer blow. A holy fragment of the Cathedral of Junk that came to live at Ephemerata Gardens in 2010, when Vince Hannemann and helpers tore down around 40 tons of Cathedral to satisfy the Department of Code Compliance.
The Cathedral of Junk is a world class DIYsneyland, a do-it-yourself roadside attraction/art environment pilgrimage site. People have gotten married there, put on plays and concerts, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. It has been captured on film by Japanese tourists, documentary film makers and photographers, and a Bank of America film crew. Suddenly after twenty years the Cathedral is no longer invisible to the Department of Code Compliance. Someone called in a complaint (not that it hadn’t happened a half dozen times before), and for whatever reason, this time the event activated the little bomb that had been imbedded in the Cathedral all along.
Overnight the giant sculpture becomes an unpermitted structure, well within the 5-foot no-build easement along the property line. Also, the property is zoned residential, but it is being treated as a public space, with 10,000 visitors in 2009. Vince is forced to close for a painful half-year, a limbo of back-and-forth with the Code people. Tear more down; not good enough; tear more down. Once the dust settled he could host no more than 30 carloads of tourists a week (so walk, bike, or bus to the Cathedral). Vince mortars in glass bottles to buttress the lower part of the sculpture/structure, and rumor has it he is working on making it levitate.
After surviving Code, the Cathedral’s body of living garbage is shifting from a kind of bird nest of salvaged metals to the magically contradictory medium of concrete light, better known as “bottle walls.” Cement's common use in large-scale built environments “secretly [deploys] malign alchemical forces to make consumerism into the dominant ideology, concretize the imaginal, and … oppress the masses with the heavy hard time of rationalized labor.”* Vince plays with cement's alchemical magic to build a vessel for luminous atmospheres. From inside, the holey walls glow blue, green, and brown, illumination puncturing the solid world. Mortar envelopes the bright windows and the metal skeleton, making a single, strong block of masonry work that is equally light and airy. Before this mode of composition, the Cathedral was mostly held together by gravity and wire, long pieces of metal puzzled into each other like twigs in a nest. Now Vince feeds an amoeba of masonry and glass, one eighty-pound bag at a time. Bring him some nice bottles if you visit, and you can return a few decades from now to find them.
The singularity garbage can accrue depends on our relationship of care and attention. Imagine all the anonymous Japanese car parts that have settled like mist in global landfills and scrapyards, only a select few salvaged for homemade Kami shrines to machine gods. The carbon dioxide exhaled by the Honda while alive joins all the rest of the emissions in the atmosphere. By now a few motes of radioactive dust made in Japan have settled in the Cathedral and Ephemerata Gardens. The reactor meltdowns change the dust everywhere, adding another layer to the Anthropocene sky.
*Peter Lamborn Wilson, “Black Pyramid/Concrete & Cement,” Cabinet 27 (2007): 17-19, p. 17.