Greenmeme’s Hyperion-Son of Uranus is a sculptural visualisation of the sewerage infrastructure of Los Angeles County as it was in 2009, when the artists were commissioned to create a work for the new Environmental Learning Center at the Hyperion Treatment Plant. Suspended to an exterior wall of the Center, the grid-like structure has been assembled as a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle comprising over 120 segments precision cut from decommissioned and misprinted road signs.
Peaks and troughs represent sewer systems, waste-water treatment and water reclamation plants, with bulges indicating where waste-water pipes are largest. The result is a unique topography created from volumetric wastewater data.
The recycled road signs are high-grade aluminium and very lightweight, which reduced engineering costs and the environmental impact of transporting the signs to the site. The work has been designed in segments that if any part is damaged it can be remade from the original fabrication file and inset.
The green and white signs are also reflective, so the sculpture is animated as light hits the surface—a reminder of the multiple visible and hidden layers of infrastructure necessary to process waste. Whilst the facility is not open to the general public, it is anticipated that the work, once completed in late 2013, will be seen by many Los Angeles school students visiting the Center.
Audience Engagement: By expressing the current manifestation of Los Angeles County’s immense sewer infrastructure as a three-dimensional map and orientating this map with a second grid taken from the Thomas Guide (a street-directory historically well-known in Southern California) the sculpture provides viewers with a personally relevant connection—a link to their home, their people, their culture and their environment. It also playfully recalls the way in which City of Los Angeles’ building and engineering departments, until very recently, often used the Thomas Guide map grid to realise and document the City’s infrastructure projects.
Education: The work is part of the new Environmental Learning Center at the Hyperion Treatment Plant and it aims to make visible the otherwise invisible infrastructure of the sewage system. It also shows an obvious re-use of a material in a different application. Social Activation/Debate: The work will contribute to a greater appreciation of the sewage treatment network and thereby influence people’s attitudes to the environment.
The work was intended to be a large bird hotel, however the reflective nature of the surface makes it undesirable to most birds.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
This section will be updated in late 2013 once the work has been installed.
The project was commissioned due to its fit with the mission of the Educational Learning Center and with the request for a low maintenance artwork. The Center is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building and was felt that the artwork would complement and possibly even contribute to this certification.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
Reclaimed Caltrans road signs were used as the sculptural material, which was in line with both the theme of the work (mapping the underground waste-water network, and being able to place this amongst the grid of streets that make up the City of Los Angeles) as well as the context (the City’s Environmental Learning Center advocating the principles of the waste hierarchy: reduce, re-use, recycle).
We felt the artwork should be representative of the Environmental Learning Center ideology, to Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, while maintaining artistic integrity. Hence we chose to fabricate the three-dimensional sewer map from used Los Angeles Department of Transport (LADOT) aluminium road signs, which are both symbolic to Los Angeles and correlate to the Thomas Guide and the sewer network and the ways we navigate urban infrastructure. (We have set up a schedule with LADOT to collect road signs from their yard, we are collecting signs that have been misprinted and cannot be used or were printed for a temporary roadworks.) All sign are green with white writing, giving a continuity to the piece.
Energy Use in Operation and Construction: The piece was fabricated by machine and designed to be assembled by hand.
Travel During the Construction Phase: All pieces were designed to be stacked and transported in one load from the place of fabrication to the installation site. Previously, the artists collected the road signs from the LADOT yard, overtime establishing a relationship whereby maintenance staff would set aside misprinted or redundant signs so as to reduce the number of trips required.
Greenmeme. Interview by author, 6 March, 2012.
Bardell, Freya and Brian Howe. “Our New Installation at Hyperion Treatment Plant.” Greenmeme. http://greenmeme.com/20110830/our-new-installation-at-hyperion-treatment-plant/ (accessed July 6, 2012).