Inflato Dumpster – John Locke & Joaquin Reyes / Raina Panagiotopoulos

Can you picture yourself walking down a busy commercial corridor in Jamaica, Queens? A cradle of Hip-Hop and the home for many jazz musicians, downtown Jamaica is an intersection where commerce and culture meet. Attracting tens of thousands visitors on a daily basis, display stands occupy sidewalks, sales pitches are amplified from speakers, Hip-Hop songs are loud, and people are indulgently dancing away. In this frenzied and lively stage of life, John Locke and Joaquin Reyes celebrate recycling and the birth of new ideas, creating an installation out of the ordinary.

The artists install Inflato Dumpster by attaching an inflated top that looks like a Zeppelin to a large dumpster that is 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. Out of a dumpster, the installation creates an enclosed space more than 150 square feet that can be used as a classroom or a place for recreational activities, such as an art workshop.

The idea of Inflato Dumpster goes back two years when Locke and Reyes, Columbia University educators, were involved in a class called, “Hacking the Urban Experience.” As a part of their class, they wanted to create something new. By using their artistic skills and teacher mindset, they conceived the idea of transforming a dumpster meant for trash into an inflated dumpster that could serve as a public and interactive classroom. The output was the Inflato Dumpster, which has been installed twice in Manhattan over the last two years.

The inflated portion of the installation was constructed with two types of lightweight materials: polyethylene and mylar film. The polyethylene material was used because it is biodegradable, common, and inexpensive. The mylar film was used because it is semi-reflective, metallic, and warm. When these materials were brought together to create the inflation, after more than 300 hours of assembly, it transformed the long, rectangular steel dumpster from something solid and heavy to something organic, airy, and approachable.

With Inflato Dumpster, Locke and Reyes intend to transform a conventional street structure into a structure that harvests imagination, craftiness, and a reinvention of space. This reinvention of space further allows the metaphor of “recycling” knowledge as well as the contradictions between heavy/light and new/used concepts. These contradicting concepts are key ingredients that make this installation successful. Participants are able to indulge in their natural curiosity of the familiar and unfamiliar as a dumpster originally meant for trash is transformed into a space providing a friendly environment. The artists generally refer to this space as a classroom; however, their goal is not to be overtly didactic. Even though they transformed the space into a learning environment, it is more about the personal experience and knowledge that is gained upon entering the bright space. Their main goal is to show the participants that this recycled space, whether it’s for viewing films or for learning, can virtually become an array of spaces.

Raina Panagiotopoulos