I think of Backyard Network as a synergetic enterprise. This enterprise absorbs rather than produces wastes and develops rather than degrades material inputs. Wealth and value are generated through the upcycling and throughputting of spent materials into one another, so as to generate new and more useful forms. In particular I focus on developing services and products whose sources, outcomes and wastes intrinsically feed into and ‘take care’ of each other.
An example of this is my composting project. I regularly collect vegetable scraps and coffee grounds from local restaurants which is then broken down, mixed and manured by chickens in the course of their day. Once this is matured I combine it with carbon sources like newspapers and dried leaves from the surrounding area, and wood shavings and sawdust from my workshop. Since this wood is chosen for non-toxicity it is suitable for composting. This well-combined mixture of organic elements heats and breaks down rapidly into dark, moist compost and after a week or two and a few turnings it is ready to put on the garden. In the course of generating compost I have also cleaned up the streets around me, produced a dozen or so free-range eggs, and diverted tens of litres of food waste and industrial byproducts from landfill. Some as yet unutilised synergies might also include using the intense heat produced in the pile to heat water or a winter greenhouse.
A related but slightly more subtle synergetic relationship is the means by which unwanted materials donated by the public – anything from old pots, plants and stones to doors, tubs, buckets and furniture – are recombined and redeveloped into new products and structures in the workshop. I benefit by reducing the costs incurred in sourcing materials, and am creatively stimulated by the unique challenges that each piece may pose. Donors are relieved of the need to dispose of some of their spent materials and, if I am able to produce something they need or desire, they may immediately translate their unwanted materials into something of which they can make ready use.
In either case, the default cash-for-items-and-services form with which we have become so familiar in capitalist society is shifted into another kind of relationship, that of gifting or exchange, which brings its own emotional rewards in the form of stronger friendships, emotional satisfaction, and a better understanding of the ways we can take care of each others needs and desires at little or no cost to ourselves. Such heartfelt connections and realisations are the stuff out of which durable and healthy communities are knitted and maintained.
As an artist I am profoundly aware of the disparity between the care, attention and years of honed skills taken to produce an artwork when compared to the price one can ask for the work produced. This is a discrepancy that is more frequently hidden rather than solved by conventional modern capitalism – think sweatshops, feedlots and mega market chains whose sites of production and transportation are disappeared from consumer view. I feel that it is one of our duties to solve this imbalance with which we are all complicit simply by participating in the modern world. In some ways we must make use of the exploitative solutions this system proposes or forces; but increasingly, we in our living culture are easily and naturally figuring out ways to route around industrially mandated culture with an ever-expanding array of intrinsically synergetic solutions at our disposal – solutions such as re-use, exchange, localisation, gifting, volunteering, co-creating and, above all, simply acknowledging and caring for each other and the world around us.