Your Trash is Treasure for Three Artists at Recology San Francisco

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Nathan Byrne, Detail view of 'I Wish I Knew For True,' 2017.  (Courtesy of Recology San Francisco)

For just a few hours over the course of May 19-23, Bay Area artists Carrie Hott, Nathan Byrne and Cybele Lyle will display the results of four months of artistic (and manual) labor at Recology San Francisco. Over those four months, the three artists in residence have culled, sorted and made use of an impressive amount of stuff from Recology's public disposal and recycling area, ranging from a truck's camper shell to cubicle walls to a homemade Joy Division cassette tape.

The culminating projects -- vastly different, but all sculptural in nature -- mine the productive overlap between one artist's material interests and another person's refuse.

Cybele Lyle, 'Are you me or Are You a Stranger,' 2017.
Cybele Lyle, 'Are you me or Are You a Stranger,' 2017. (Courtesy of Recology San Francisco)

For Lyle -- who started in printmaking, moved into photography and video work and increasingly enters the third dimension with the help of wooden frameworks and overlapping planes -- the Recology residency was another step in the evolution of her own practice. Forced to break her habits and use found materials for the first time, she found herself drawn to particular textures (fabrics, laminate flooring) and chairs.

In Are You Me or Are You a Stranger, Lyle breaks up her enormous light-filled Recology studio with smaller room-like spaces demarcated by flooring, frameworks and outdoor furniture. Many of the arrangements are spindly; thin metal poles support a wall of brightly colored monochrome rectangles, shiny fabric drapes over a spare wooden frame in the warehouse's roll-up door.

Cybele Lyle, Work in progress from 'Are You Me or Are You a Stranger,' 2017.
Cybele Lyle, Work in progress from 'Are You Me or Are You a Stranger,' 2017. (Courtesy of the artist)

Grids -- in the form of painted patterns and metal barriers -- appear throughout the installation, which feels like a modular theatrical set frozen in just one iteration of many. Which is, of course, how Lyle worked: pulling things out of piles, trying them out in the studio, altering them until they felt like they were no longer someone else's, keeping some things, rejecting others, stacking, rearranging, attaching, ad infinitum.


The chairs, each embodying a particular design sensibility, could be the characters within this set. Lyle's work has long explored the relationship between queerness and architecture as a way to explore identity. "With this work, I've started exploring ways to bring in the figure without limiting or specifying the definitions of queerness," she says. The process of determining when objects that once belonged to others are “hers” is a process of not just rejecting society's binary structure, but of exploring her truest self.

Carrie Hott, Detail view of 'Summer Night Forever,' 2017.
Carrie Hott, Detail view of 'Summer Night Forever,' 2017. (Courtesy of Recology San Francisco)

Next door to Lyle's additive permutations, Hott engages in a much more subtractive process in Summer Night Forever. Digging through an enormous amount of electronic waste, she methodically broke down various sound-making machines into only their most vital parts -- often just a few circuit boards and a speaker -- to make visible their inner workings.

On blue-painted pegboard platforms she calls “islands,” Hott's newly minimal electronics play CDs of whale songs, the aforementioned Joy Division tape, the second half of Titanic on VHS and a white noise track called "Summer Night." A baby monitor picks up the whale sounds from the central island and broadcasts them to an islet in the warehouse corner.

Carrie Hott, Detail from 'Summer Night Forever,' 2017.
Carrie Hott, Detail from 'Summer Night Forever,' 2017. (Courtesy of the artist)

Lamps in various shades of blue (all paint culled from the Recology piles) light a scene of power cables, circuitry and automated machines. In an era when most of our technology is sealed within smooth, buttonless cases, the electronic guts of Hott's installation are both refreshing and mesmerizing. (So that's what the inside of a CD changer looks like.) The overlapping tracks produced by the machines create a strange, anxious ambiance: post-punk, chirping crickets, the sound of an unsinkable ship breaking apart, screaming extras and whales communicating in their own haunting language.

Hott's recent Key Room installation at Headlands Center for the Arts includes a bank of telephones offering audio samples from or about the Marin Headlands. With Summer Night Forever, it's as if she turned those phones inside out. And instead of preserving history, the machines at Recology tell a story of cultural detritus, and how much we throw away.

Last but not least, Nathan Byrne's I Wish I Knew for True: 12 Works by Nathan Byrne occupies the Environmental Learning Center, work all the more impressive given the fact that it was made not in a cavernous studio like Lyle or Hott's, but in a standard shipping container -- long and low-ceilinged and windowless. Byrne, who graduates from San Francisco State University this month, presents a series of individual works that arrange familiar objects in unlikely juxtaposition.

Like Lyle's work, there's an element of precarity: an orb made from the metal bands of wine barrels is held together by compression and friction, an infamous hand chair cradles a pile of crushed mica and in a projected video, shattered glass rolls around in a foot massager. The exhibition's titular piece, I Wish I Knew For True, resembles an Eva Hesse work, the plastic tips of micropipettes used in science labs creating a glowing, anemone-like bowl.

Nathan Byrne, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,' 2017. Installation view at Recology.
Nathan Byrne, 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,' 2017. Installation view at Recology. (Courtesy of the artist)

Byrne's work is testament to the amazing variety of material available to the Recology AIRs: in a diptych made from two window frames, the collaged elements include leather postcards, stereoscope images, wrappers for old, strange products, and two photographs of a hand holding, he thinks, ecstasy and acid.

A rule of the Recology residency is that 95 percent of the materials artists use in their work must be scavenged from the public disposal and recycling area. The origin story behind all the objects used -- and obsessed over -- by Lyle, Hott and Byrne is the fact that it was discarded by someone. All three of the artists spoke to the overwhelming amount of stuff they sifted through in the course of their four-month residency period. And in addition to material experimentation and new bodies of work, that's a fact that will stay with all of them. “It gets really real,” Hott says. “Just what people throw away and how much they throw away.”


'Are You Me or Are You a Stranger,' 'Summer Night Forever' and 'I Wish I Knew for True: 12 Works by Nathan Byrne' are on view at Recology San Francisco (401 and 503 Tunnel Ave) Friday, May 19, 5-8pm, Saturday, May 20, 1-3pm and Tuesday, May 23, 5-7pm. For more information, click here.