Garbage Becomes Visual Resource in Bay Area

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

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The goal of the Artists-in-Residence program at the dump is to change a throwaway society by creating beauty.

ART made from trash to graphically prove the beauty - as well as utility - of recycling is the goal of the Artist-in Residence Program at San Francisco's dump. Founded in 1990 by Norcal Waste Systems, the program has involved 50 Bay Area artists who have completed residencies. Last month three current artists-in-residences - Hector Dio Mendoza, Viviana Paredes and Mark Faigenbaum - presented their finished pieces at a special exhibit at the San Francisco Recycling & Disposal's art studio.

A 15-foot tree grown from styrofoam created by Mendoza in the exhibit was described in a national newspaper review as “a work of haunting, austere beauty representative of what might be called the Trash Can School.” Its stark beauty pushes viewers to think about what they tossed in the garbage can that day. “It's very textural, very architectonic,” adds Mendoza, a sculptor from San Jose.

Art from the program is displayed at Norcal subsidiaries, government agencies and lobbies in downtown offices. Many participating artists also make a permanent piece for the three-acre sculpture garden on the hillside above the San Francisco Transfer Station, where 2,100 tons of landfill-bound trash are dumped and top-loaded into 18 wheelers five days a week.

Bay Area artists apply for three month residencies. Those selected by a nine-member advisory board are handed the keys to a 2,200 square-foot art studio at the dump and given access to the city's waste stream. Mendoza, who culled piles of garbage for items he used to make different pieces including the two large trees explains: “Conceptually, I am utilizing the tree as the main icon and as a metaphor for the fragility of our natural environment.”

As described elsewhere in this issue, Norcal Waste Systems also operates the food residuals composting program which supplies vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and other counties with compost to nourish soils and grapes.

The program was initiated by Jo Hanson, an artist and former city arts commissioner, who began picking up trash blowing along her sidewalk in the 1970s. She was convinced that art made from trash would appeal to people's emotions about waste. “People change their ways only when their hearts are touched,” she observed. Each artist in residence receives an $1,800 stipend - financed through two cents of the $18.90/month residents pay for garbage collection.

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