Monday, January 23, 2012

The Daily Californian | A&E, Monday, January 23, 2012

Second Chances: San Francisco recycling center hosts sustainable art exhibit

Recology Art Show
Carli Baker/Staff
A garbage facility may sound like a terribly unattractive place to visit — let alone as a subject of artistic scrutiny. Yet this past Friday at a recycling and disposal center, Recology San Francisco, the unique Artist in Residence exhibition turned the notion of waste as useless or ugly on its head. Like the circular movement of the recycling services at Recology SF, local artists the program supports are given priority to sift through the vast piles of junk and reclaim trash into works of art.
The exhibitions of artwork by Donna Anderson Kam, Terry Berlier and student artist Ethan Estess were a diverse range from the surreal (Estess’s mannequin with a backpack overflowing with coffee lid tentacles) to the delicately beautiful (Kam’s rainbow pastel drawings). Overall, the exhibitions were thought-provoking examinations on the environmental impact of waste from a microcosmic level.

While dialogue on green sustainability is nothing new — we all hear from scientists and news op-eds on how reckless human consumption ravages Earth’s ecosystems — what’s striking about the Recology SF art exhibit is its intimate approach to garbage. Formed by everyday knick-knacks, the art highlights the disposable nature of all that we own. The result is a rare feat of connecting individual actions to larger social responsibility without feeling forced — an aesthetic reminder that the mountains of trash in dumps are simply made of objects left by each and every one of us.

The hidden (or ignored) reality of material excess ties the ideals of Recology SF together. “All the artists that come through our program have different experiences, but there’s an underlying theme of surprise and overwhelming unbelief at the amount of materials that we buy and don’t use,” commented Deborah Munk, the director of the Artist in Residence Program. Munk then pointed out that napkins alongside the night’s refreshments were from unopened boxes dumped in 2003.

To look through the peephole in Terry Berlier’s piece “Event Horizon” is to understand the bizarre overload of disposed objects at places like Recology. With scavenged IKEA slats, Berlier constructed layers of wooden octagons that jut out of the wall, with a lamp swinging above. When one peers inside, a mirror reflects the viewer’s eye and the surrounding tunnel into infinite angles, with rings of light traveling across the continuum. The piece is a graceful expression of the surreal, endless excess Berlier witnessed during her residence.

“The first month or two you’re completely overwhelmed, seeing the amount of garbage we create as a society,” recounted Berlier. An assistant professor of sculpture at Stanford, Berlier connected her experience to theories like an event horizon (the point at which light can no longer escape a black hole): “I felt like I was the point of no return. The artists here (at Recology) are like the last moment of scavenging these materials.”

Evident from Berlier’s account, constant exposure to the dump alters an artist’s perspective on how society disposes materials. In “Homespun,” Berlier weaves wooden bedposts into a large chain that snakes in and out of the wall before spiraling across the floor. In effect, the junk left by our domestic lives is projected as an absurd buildup of trash over time.

But if Berlier appears pessimistic about the future of waste, her most interactive piece is uplifting: a circle of playable ivory keys (from an upright piano) wired to a Dell microcontroller and a Mac. Berlier titled the piece “The Beginning and the End Meet,” as it seemed poignant amongst the wasteland of ruined objects. “This whole place for me was about the end, where all these materials end up here,” related Berlier, “But it’s not the end — it has an impact.” With the right mindset, even discarded technology can meld into future designs.

While Recology’s assorted junk is a virtual playground for sculptors like Berlier, it’s a challenge for artists like Donna Anderson Kam. Kam usually creates large-scale pastel drawings, but basic materials like paper were hard to come by as tractors compact piles at the dump. However, she remained enthusiastic towards reusing what others consider garbage. “Everything comes to an end here, and it’s really wonderful to experience that and try to make something new and fresh from it,” said Kam.

Indeed, Kam experimented with collages of advertisements in her process. Typically, Kam photographs young actors performing scenes, then sketches the images. In one piece from Kam’s “Little Hollywood, CA” series, a large canvas portrays disaffected youth rendered with a stunning spectrum of colors, with wild grass cut from a Budweiser ad. The details seem both real and artificial, reflecting a cultural environment where rampant consumerism becomes as natural as fields and trees.
In the end, hope for the future of ecology came from young artists like Ethan Estess. A grad student of interdisciplinary environmental science at Stanford, Estess has a passion for bridging marine ecology and sculpture. “Science writing is structured to be devoid of emotion,” said Estess, “but you can’t make decisions without emotions. Every choice we make comes from our conscious.”

“Hopefully, with my artwork, I can foster that environmental consciousness,” he concluded. And by showcasing the secret life of things we throw away, artists like Estess do just that: They bring matters of conservation science closer to the heart.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Trash' exhibit to open at Recology art gallery

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't call it trash! It's art (but it was trash once.)
There's an art gallery at Recology, the disposal center near Candlestick Park, and an exhibition is opening there Friday.
A circular keyboard from an old upright piano, controlled by a discarded laptop... Vinyl sign material that becomes part of an environmental drawing... You can find this stuff in the studios of the two current artists-in-residence.
Their resource is the place where people drop off their trash.
Hundreds of artists have gone through the Recology residence program in 21 years. Some of their works are displayed in a 3-acre sculpture garden. They give tours by appointment and they hope the works might be inspirational.
(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.) 

"Beginning at the End" and Even the Windmills are Weakening" at Recology SF's Art Studio Gallery, Friday January 20th

Saturday, January 21, 2012

KQED Arts, January 20, 2012

Recology San Francisco Enables Artists to 'Make Art, Not Landfill'

Large Image
Recology San Francisco is the only garbage dump in the country that hosts a rotating artist-in-residence program. Artists are granted studio space for four months, along with a stipend and free access to items dropped off in the Public Disposal and Recycling (PDR) area. It is essentially the penultimate dumpster diving experience: anything and everything, from old electronics to musical instruments and every other possible art material under the sun, appears at some point, free for the unlimited taking. Resident artists must use only that which they salvage from the PDR to make new work while in residence. Founded in 1990 by artist Jo Hanson, by the end of this year the Recology San Francisco A. I. R. program will have served 99 artists, including the likes of Val Britton, Packard Jennings, Christine Lee, and Scott Oliver. Current resident artists Terry Berlier and Donna Anderson Kam present the fruits of their labor in a two-day reception in the on-site studio this weekend.

Terry Berlier
The Beginning and the End Meet
Photo: Micah Gibson
The residency program is an exercise in resourcefulness and a resounding statement about the surplus generated by consumer culture. Upon arrival, Berlier wondered about the possibility of procuring a piano. Within two days a perfectly suitable upright was brought to the dump and snagged for deconstruction in her studio. A fully functioning MacBook computer dropped off for electronics recycling is among other plethora implemented in the construction of the artist's sculptural new media installations. An assistant professor of sculpture at Stanford University, Berlier took a sabbatical to work in her dump studio. She notes that "the residency has blown up my practice" through the wealth of raw materials available daily as people arrive hourly with carloads of stuff cleared out of their homes, offices and storage spaces. For someone like Berlier, who previously worked with found objects, the residency can be an overwhelming abundance of raw materials for art-making. The anticipated challenge of finding supplies for artists who have more narrowly focused practices can be nerve wracking. But the experience can also lead to new discoveries, such as for Anderson Kam, whose practice prior to the residency focused on drawing on conventional paper. During the residency, she has begun experimenting with new materials, such as the cast-off perforated vinyl advertising skins from transit buses. Oversized cardboard spools have spurred her development of continuous narratives drawn on their circular surfaces.

Donna Anderson Kam
(08-12-2011) 4:47 PDT Little Hollywood, Ca.
Photo: Micah Gibson
Beyond the art program, this dump is a surprisingly fascinating place. Despite whatever expectations one might have about messiness, it is very orderly and clean. Even the seagulls are kept in line by a professional Falconer named Indigo who patrols regularly with three exquisite falcons, steering the gulls away from the organic waste and out to the Bay. The facility itself is a model for creative reuse -- a private sculpture garden on site offers sound buffering between the dump and the nearby residential neighborhood known as Little Hollywood. Designed by Susan Leibovitz Steinman (sister to photographer Annie Leibovitz) in 1992, the garden features concrete salvaged from the collapsed Embarcadero Freeway damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Resident artists are encouraged to create work for the garden -- to date it houses more than 35 sculptures scattered throughout the three-acre space.

Ethan Estess
Last Dive at the Farallones: 100,000 Marine Mammals Killed Per Year
Photo: Micah Gibson
Recycling is, of course, the highest order of Recology San Francisco, followed closely by educational efforts to encourage recycling. Every pound of waste that goes into a landfill has a cost attached to it and, as a for-profit employee-owned company, Recology San Francisco is incentivized to educate the public about recycling efficiently. The artist-in-residence program is an internally funded community-based endeavor that combines actual recycling with public outreach. Other efforts include participation in street parades -- a spotless garage houses an extensive collection of antique garbage trucks -- and more than 150 public tours for adults and children annually. Beyond the work it does locally, Recology San Francisco endeavors to provide a model for other waste management programs by making its business model available as an open source set of guidelines. "Make Art, Not Landfill" reads a stamp on the Recology San Francisco materials, designed to look like a stenciled graffiti tag. The message that we need to recycle for the betterment of the planet is writing on the wall, as it were -- that recycling can also support artists gives new life to an old idea.

Recology Sculpture Garden
Garden designed by Susan Leibowitz-Steinman
Conehead Chairs by Norma Yorba
The Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco will host an exhibition and reception for current artists-in-residence Terry Berlier, Donna Anderson Kam and Ethan Estess on Friday, January 20, 2012 from 5-9pm and Saturday, January 21, from 1-5pm. For more information vist

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Do List: January

This month we are highlighting exhibits where artists create work 
from discarded or everyday and industrial materials.  Then,  if you’re 
feeling inspired we’ve listed a couple ways you can get creative too.
January 20 & 21st  San Francisco Dump, 503 Tunnel Ave, Artist in Residence 
Exhibition opening.  
Did you know that the SF Dump has an art program?  The Artist in Residence Program 
at Recology SF is a one-of-a-kind program where artists work for four months in studio 
space on site, use materials recovered from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area, 
and speak to students and the general public.  The program at Recology SF will host 
an exhibition and reception for current artists-in-residence Terry Berlier, 
Donna Anderson Kam, and Ethan Estess on Friday, January 20, from 5-9pm and 
Saturday, January 21, from 1-5pm.

top: Terry Berlier's work and studio bottom: Donna Anderson Kam's studio and 
work at the Recology Artist in Residence Program