project image
Michelle Murphy (artist)

first performed on June 23, 2020
a defunct glass recycling plant in the Cuyahoga River floodplain “the Flats of Cleveland”
performed once in 2020


Chicago, IL


Over the last twenty years I have trespassed a few times at a recycling plant located at the Cuyahoga river floodplain called “the Flats” of Cleveland. My first time was at age twenty when I was an undergrad student at the Cleveland Institute of Art. The recycling plant was a site known by a few artists in my community for its otherworldly dunes, crushed glass sorted by color: royal blue, pale green, and shimmery crystal. Not wanting to get arrested and to maintain this post-industrial paradise, I respected the secret. It looked like the Moon, if the Moon was made of sparkling bits of colorful trash. For those privy, this location offered the “rock hounding” rewards of little bottles still intact, discarded IDs, and glass slag aesthetically akin to clear quartz, lapis, and jade. I have two of these rare “rocks” displayed on my bookshelves.

In 2020, I returned to the now defunct recycling plant to perform. Dressed in a chroma-key green jumpsuit, and with a matching green sled, I become a “stuntman.” With my friend Rebekah Wilhelm nearby in case of my emergency or arrest, I traverse up the dangerous hill holding my sled. I am stunned immediately by the clarity of shatters, smacks, and crashes as my boot-prints mark the face of the dune. The vivid acoustics are captured on my POV video camera. Once at the top, I pause a moment to take in the view, to appreciate this unlikely journey. I then carefully sit in my sled, feet first, as I slide down. I am scared and do my best to shift and steer my body weight. Miraculously, my skin is unscathed by the sea of broken windows.

A month prior to my performance, at the end of April 2020, Cleveland’s Mayor canceled the city’s recycling program indefinitely. Despite this, the administration requests that residents continue to separate their trash! Cleveland doesn’t recycle anymore—glass, plastic, and other materials all get mixed with waste and are destined to be part of a landfill.

Practice-based research becomes my guerrilla performance while incidental audience members (e.g. tourists, laborers, park rangers, and security) watch and critique my actions. Sometimes the performances end prematurely when I am asked to leave both public and private space. Using “gallows humor,” I embody the empty promises of the “American Dream.” I over-extend my body, repeat gestures for the camera, and perform for hours at a time.