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.
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.
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 sunsetscavenger.com/AIR.