Trashy art: Recology’s 20 years of shoving artists into heaps

Pub date July 21, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

One thing I learned yesterday about the artist in residence program at the Recology dump; Sirron Norris and other alums were not wading through the mountains of lightly used diapers and rotting carrots to cull the materials for the flights of foraged fancy they produce in the program, a 20-year retrospective of which opens today, Wed/21, at Intersection 5M. No no, they pick through the goods turned up by the city’s curb-side and drop-off recycling program, which you think would be a little cleaner. I mean, look at the art they made from it. But you’d be surprised…  

“That section anyone can drop something off is where you garbage pick,” artist Sirron Norris tells me when I called him up for comment on the sweet gallery show Recology’s assembled. He assured me that the dump’s program changed his artistic trajectory, and yet “You will come across rotting food — vegetables and rotting stuff. They’ll dump fish in the styrofoam cases, a lot of vegetables — a lot. Ive seen all kinds of stuff, nasty stuff and trippy stuff, a box full of stuffed animals; a box you could fit a loveseat in [note: here Norris commenced with a story about said box I don’t feel comfortable relating to my gentle readers. Ask him for details when you see him, dear ones]. Tons of pills, so many pills. Cough syrup.” 

“It’s up to them if they want to wear a respirator,” says dump advisory board member (and program director for Intersection for the Arts, who let us into the building even though I blatantly got the day wrong of the exhibit’s opening reception – thanks!) Kevin Chen. Artists, who spend up to eight hours a day at the recycling facility, are encouraged to wear not only steel toed boats, but also steel soled boots. Tre rugged, no?

But judging from the gems assembled at the Recology retrospective, the experience is more than worth the sanitary incursions. A kicky dress made from bottle caps and junk food wrappers by Remi Rubel hung next to Sandy Drobny’s intricately woven “Caution” tape apron. I wanted them for my own, just like I wanted to sit and finger Linda Raynsford’s saws carved to resemble their enemies in nature, the majestic fir tree, every day before I head to work. 

What I saw yesterday

The retrospective provides a lot to look at, nearly all of it made from things that otherwise would have been crushed into recycling. Packard Jennings created a “Terrorist Alert” board during his 2003 residency, which he installed on Division Street to warn post- 9/11 automobile drivers of threat levels approaching the ominous “pineapple” or “far-fetched” measure of urgency. David Hevel’s trio of bright fascinators – which he reverse-melts with a blowtorch in a video installation included in the gallery – baffled me with their preciousness until Chen cleared up their providence. “Sometimes a party store will drop off a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. Ah, streamers and sparkles, got it. 

Perhaps for obvious reasons, the residency program is an SF exclusive in this country. Chen says a similar program is being plotted for Portland, Oregon, but the set up – which allows artists free range in the recycling area in exchange for giving Recology temporary ownership of the pieces created, plus a few for their permanent collection – is mainly made possible here by a dump administration who, Chen told us, “really loves art.” Thanks guys! The whole thing left me stoked to check out the actual trash heap itself, where a sculpture garden lives and where regular gallery openings give people a chance to see their waste in a whole new light. 

Just like Norris did. “You’d see these piles and the piles would have these really great stories,” the artist told me, speaking as a man who knows the worth of another’s cast-offs. “I furnished my entire apartment from that place — cool stuff too, like old displays from Radio Shack.” 


Art at the Dump: 20 Years of the Artist in Residence Program at Recology

opening reception: Wed/21 6-8 p.m., free

through Sept. 25


925 Mission, SF