Talkin' Trash: Think Outside the Bin By Jennifer Hattam
Every three months, hundreds of San Francisco art lovers gather to mingle, sip wine, and check out one of the hottest shows in town: the sculptures, fashions, videos, and other work being created at the city dump. Since 1990, the San Francisco Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center has given more than 50 "artists in residence" on-site studio space, a monthly stipend, and 24-hour access to the 75 tons of old appliances, worn clothing, construction debris, and other garbage that households and businesses discard each day.
The pioneering program was founded in part to help the city meet a state requirement to keep half its waste out of landfills. By recycling, composting, and reusing, San Francisco is now up to 67 percent and shooting for 75 percent by 2010. Displays of the artists' work in local schools and public spaces, as well as in the dump's own sculpture garden, keep the city's garbage—and its alternate uses—in sight and on people's minds. Participants have found inspiration in everything from foam packing to fire escapes. With such a wealth of materials at residents' disposal, there's always a long list of artists waiting to dive in.
Hector Dio Mendoza, Tree
"I wanted to do something with the things no one likes: the Styrofoam, packaging peanuts, and bubble wrap that stay around for 500 years. I did a whole series creating icons of the natural environment—trees, birds, coral reefs—out of a material that threatens it.
"Probably 300 to 400 individual pieces of Styrofoam went into this tree, mostly from electronics packaging. Mountains of this stuff gets thrown away. Hopefully, making art with it will inspire someone else to come up with a solution."
Daphne Ruff, Monopoly Purse and Shoes
"I was attracted to the colors of board games and paper money, as well as to the idea of playing with the associations people have with money. These types of materials have an identity built in, but you're creating a new one, a second life for them. When you're a starving artist, you just use the things you can, but then you come to love them.
"For the first couple of weeks at the dump, all you do is collect. The details of people's lives get dumped at your feet, and you start spinning stories about who they are or were. You end up holding on to things—like dishes. You don't know why, or what you could do with them, but you can't let them go."
Mike Farruggia, Sociedad de Vida
"This sign came from a dream I had while traveling in Argentina. In it, I was part of a group of old men who would meet in the plaza and do things to be conscious of life, like just riding around the park on bicycles. While at the dump, I was collecting a lot of letters. I found the bike-route sign in the center, and it all came together.
"We would only have ten minutes to an hour to collect our materials before a big truck would scoop everything away, so if something drew you, you just had to grab it. It all goes by real fast."
Mike Farruggia, The Re-Cycle Table
"I made the top of this table from pieces of an old fire escape that had horrible green paint on it. I cleaned them, milled them, and sliced them up to reveal the patterns inside the wood. The material has a history: You can't duplicate or re-create what's happened to it."
Tree photo: Julio Martinez; purse photo:San Francisco Recycling & Disposal Staff; sign photo: courtesy of Steven Wolf Fine Arts; table photo: Paul Fresina