The G20 Shanty Project, September 2009 – The leaders of the world’s 20 richest economies met in Downtown Pittsburgh to discuss the future of the global economy. Meanwhile, uptown, we made an ugly little shanty town so everyone who wasn’t invited could have a say. 

This was an early experiment in large-scale, collaborative ephemera. I had heard that the G20 was coming to town earlier that year, as the news cycles were carrying word that Pittsburgh was hiring a lot of outside help – about 18 million dollars’ worth of cops from outside of the state. I decided wanted to create a space that was essentially an autonomous zone, a shanty town within a metropolitan bubble. In perhaps a moment of synchronicity,  fellow artist Carolina Ramos happened to be examining concepts related to the favela, or sprawling Brazilian shanty, and its implications for a representational artwork.

So, with a solid team of like-minds operating under the title “DUMPSTER=HOME’,  we settled on the construction of a quaint and caring shanty town nested in the bosom of a tyrannical, transnational global hegemony.  We were on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University (I was still in college; this was an early jump on my thesis), which was perfect for both aesthetic, and contextual reasons, as CMU is a labor pipeline for the military industrial complex, donating to the war economy what they consider “human capital”. The goal was to create a space for the disenfranchised, marginalized communities that will not ever have a chance to speak with the world leaders who have over-run their town with riot-police.

The G20 Shanty was installed for a total of 2 weeks; it was constructed ENTIRELY from waste materials, collected campus dumpsters and construction dumpsters nearby. This was an aesthetic choice – personally, my goal was to include as many strange angles as possible – at once a reference to the forms present in a favela, and also a metaphor for the many different perspectives our shelter was intending to house. The physical location of the G20 Shanty was in the middle of what is essentially the center of the University, on what is known as “The Fence”. Tradition allows any student or student-led organization to “hold the fence” for as long as they want, as though engaged in an occupation. This lent itself to the concept, as our plan was to occupy and operate an autonomous zone. So I packed a week of clothes, went and held the fence; in the first few days, in a space roughly 50’x 15′, we had built four rooms, a common space, a pallet pantry (with a green roof lol), storage, and a patio area. 

We developed the ‘foundation’ in roughly a week prior to the G20, then spent the week of the G20 demonstrating, hosting workshops and speakers, and continuing construction on what had become our slap-dash shelter from oligarchs. Some of our visiting speakers included Reverend Billy, as well as the Beehive Collective. We made new friends, supported demonstrations and demonstrators, provided free food and water, and dealt with the cops’ bullshit. We advocated for each other, as well as marginalized, voiceless people from all over the world, we brought crowds to learn about the injustice caused by free-trade and neo-imperialism. The space transformed into an invaluable forum when the Pittsburgh Police Department used the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) on the American People for the first time in history, as well as protection from the subsequent rioting that ensued. 

After 11 years, this work is more relevant than ever, in my opinion. In examining culture and current events, I learned that we must examine our capacity for agency, first and foremost – without the recognition, the acknowledgement that “we can do it”, we have no position in the world. Against all odds, we were able to create a fantastic representation of a survival situation in which people may thrive in community and creativity. 

Thank you to everyone, strangers and friends, far and wide, who helped make this work possible – it literally was not possible without you!


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