Saturday, June 4, 2011


Wheelflowers, wheeldomes, wheelwalls, wheelarbors, wheelbarrow shrines, welded-wheel bike racks, wheelgardens, and wheelmachines bloom everywhere in the patchy landscapes of the City of Living Garbage. There are bicycle-powered tablesaws and foodblenders, bike rim domes at Biosquat hunkered over hand-dug clay quarries and another at the Cathedral of Junk that incorporates a cosmic satellite dish and whirling A/C turban. Rubber tire planters, sometimes cut into fanciful bird forms or spiky crowns, grace yards and sidewalks. Earthship dwellers inhabit rammed-earth car tires. You enter Ephemerata Gardens through a wheelarbor of bike rims with an arced PVC/metal pole/guardrail skeleton that hosts moonflower and heavenly blue morning glory. In the backyard, three wheelflowers sway over our fig trees. White wing doves pause on them to survey the cats hunting on the ground below.

The wheelflowers bloomed when some side-of-the-road hubcaps, junk bike rims from the Yellow Bike Project, and PVC and metal pipes abandoned in our backyard met a little bit of wire and earth. They are doubled overhead by car and bicyclist emissions, with the small hubcabs centered in the web of bike spokes having a bigger share in the atmosphere's composition. The circles make a pattern with the sun's arc, the bottles stacked as retaining walls for raised bed gardens, and an arch of bent rebar with cut metal letters spelling out our garden's name.

Wheels compose landscapes of circular repetition and movement. Cars and bikes are so different -- the moods they stir up in traffic, their repair costs, the ways they spend time and energy, their relationships to the sky or hills (not to mention soil: cars are heavy and compact earth; they have to drive on non-permeable cover; food-powered machinery runs on agricultural fields and cars run on drilled land- and seascapes; you could go on and on). Car wheels, chained to machine engines, don't have the DIY flexibility of muscle/food-powered cyborgs like the bike or shoe. People are walking or biking into livable futures past junkyards of electrified and corn-fed automobiles. They build signposts out of vehicular debris, fenders welded into a huge gateway that reads "BIKETOPIA." The Nowhere City of Velocipedopolis.

Biosquat started out as a summertime homestead for outdoor living, with wintertime dwellings somewhere south. Their living experiment was to become bike nomads following bird migrations through a seasonal city stretched out across what David Santos calls “the New World Twilight Zone” in his onscreen epic, Wheeliad. The Zone is a north-south flyway for migrating monarch and snout nose butterflies, Mexican free-tail bats, hummingbirds, and hundreds of other beings of the sky who teach nomadic survival. The Zone's hourglass shape hosts supernatural anomalies at its tapered heart – “a geographic singularity of weirdness centered loosely on Mexico." Austin, Oz-Town, “a prime node in the twilight zone,” incubates mutations for survival in the ecological catastrophes wracking the early 21st century.

Biosquat's caretaker, Ed Sapir, leads us along paths winding through this edible landscape dotted with salvage architecture. The hillside gardens can be irrigated with rainwater caught in a homemade 600 gallon cistern that runs on a solar powered pump Ed designed. We visit the little egg-shaped dugout “hobbit hole” with a dome of welded bike wheels and curvy benches made of red clay mixed with sand. Climb up into the wheelegg treehouse, with its pointy end north and its wide side south, open-ended to the sun’s arc and cooling wind. Wired with electricity, but built for open-air, A/C-free summer sleeping, the treehouse lets you slumber in the sky. The treehouse’s rough cedar plank floor comes from a factory outside town. The egg’s pointy end is half of a satellite dish with an over-arc of bike rims wired to aluminum sailboat spars bought cheap – surplus junk. Political candidate signs make up the roof, but Ed wants to replace them with metal tiles. He envisions an elegant vernacular architecture akin to Finca Exotica's "tiki modernism" where the makeshift political signs, crumbling in the sun, no longer fit in. A beautiful curvy wheelbanister is held together by strong wire running in a circle surrounding the balcony in a structural hug. Ed says you could charge at it and just bounce off, it’s so strong. It’s the tension.

Everything at Biosquat is just hatching, all the time. Ed imagines the bike wheel domes
and red clay mortarwork as archaeological sites – readymade ruins or follies, overgrown with flora. While we sit and talk he plucks weeds in an ongoing shaping of the landscape. Like Santos’ online writing, Biosquat is devoid of any illusion of closure, permanently in progress, and alive. Half-born wheelforms accumulate for however long it takes for them to come together. Salvage architecture takes patience in a slow accretion of puzzle pieces. There are finished and inhabitable projects like the treehouse, and there are things in more elementary stages of coming through the pipedream bottleneck. Everything is many things at once, and nothing is what it was.

Biosquat plays out how cities might finally catch on to the ecstatic bounty of the post-industrial age – the trashed world. Beautiful houses have been built of waste. This radical tinkering revels in the surplus of decomposition, experimenting with new and unanticipated forms and landscapes out of mobility machines that are falling apart. Like a circus of scrappy novelties, it is an alternative, temporary urban zone that gets on with celebrating life in the face of ecochaos. Rolling with the cyborg bicyclist/bike body, it keeps human muscle power and feats of endurance like bicycle migrations at the center of possibilities. Carnival sustainability is “victory-in-advance,” as David Santos puts it – “victory-in-the-attempt” to bike out of peak oil collapse into the paradise of the City of Living Garbage.

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