Last Night at the Dump: Artists Find Inspiration in Found Objects

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But for Recology – an employee-owned waste recovery service and engineering company – everyone’s trash is exactly three artists’ treasure, as they navigate the public dumpsite, seeking inspiration amongst the things from which people no longer do.

Photo Jan 26, 5 09 06 PM
Now You See Mes: My miniaturized reflections on an array of sunglass lenses found in the dump. 

Described as a ‘unique art and education program,’ the Artist in Residence program at Recology provides artists with a stipend, access to discarded materials in its 47-acre facility, and studio space (I overheard one of the featured artists’ appreciation of the studio’s useful equipment and large space) – essentially a “laboratory for artists”, as one of the staff members put it.

On top of promoting environmental conservation through art, the residency program makes up a core part of Recology’s public education component; resident artists speak to visiting tours and present their final works in a public exhibition to raise awareness of waste as a resource and the role of art in environmental conversations. Recology awards six residencies per year, with each class loaning their finished works for one year for public exhibitions.

The final exhibition at Recology’s collection last Tuesday, January 26th, featured artwork by Jeremiah Barber, Alison Pebworth, and Robb Godshaw. While I admired Jeremiah’s intriguing (and somewhat eerie) visual pieces of ‘found texts’, Alison’s eclectic cabinet of exploration, and Robb’s candid hybrid of mechanics and optics, my take on their inspiration will not do their work justice: I will let the art do the talking (see gallery at the end and you can also read exhibition’s press release).

But from the point of view of a casual observer, I am willing to say this: I did not feel that the constraint on material resources was a limiting factor to their artistic expression. I might even argue that the dumpster materials became an inspiration and opened new ways of thinking. It seems that these artists can still portray what they intend to about our society and culture through their work, which I think, is one of many goals of artistic pursuits.

Robb for example, who normally toys first with ideas before obtaining the materials needed, admitted that there’s fewer costs when working with materials that are already waste. He could discard whatever didn’t work well without financial or emotional consequences. And now, as a consumer, he’s now more aware of his own purchasing habits.

Thanks to the exhibition, the artists can share their inspiration and shed light on our waste situation. Art and storytelling add more value to the ‘found objects’ that people no longer care about – quite literally, in fact, since all the pieces are for sale.

Outside the hall, there was a ‘repurposed collection’, essentially a pile of old stuff that Recology gives away to visitors. “This is a find!” exclaimed a friendly, middle-aged woman, who’s obviously a regular to the exhibit, as she picks up a functioning Hermes typewriter. Unlike the artists’ exhibit, the collection is where we weave our own story and prescribe new values to items that were once junk.

In line with the company’s mission to turn waste into a resource, the Artist in Residence program seems to have achieved a triple bottom line not dissimilar to what big businesses today are seeking in their own sustainability initiatives. The program changes the artists’ perspective on waste as a resource, raises awareness of the darker side of our consumption culture, and even attaches economic and emotional value to objects we once thought useless.

All photos are taken by Paricha Duangtaweesub at the exhibition, except for the Recology logo, which was extracted from the company’s website. Written by Paricha Duangtaweesub and edited by Kaitlyn Menghini.

Robb Godshaw’s Big-Screen Debris

Alison Pebworth’s Innards and Upwards, A San Francisco Wunderkammer

Jeremiah Barber’s Make Me Change Me


Last Night at the Dump: Artists Find Inspiration in Found Objects

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