A local dump might seem an unlikely place to create art, but that’s exactly what’s been happening at the San Francisco Transfer Station and Recycling Center, Recology, since 1990. As part of Recology’s Artist in Residence program, local artists transform trash into art at an on-site studio, using discarded materials sourced directly from the garbage and recycling of San Franciscans.
The idea originated with artist and environmentalist Jo Hanson. After creating her own art with trash and assisting with campaigns such as city-wide street sweepings, in the late 1980s Hanson approached Recology about a program where artists could reuse materials from the dump. At around the same time, San Francisco was implementing new recycling laws, and looking for ways to raise awareness about waste. The artist-in-residence program fit that bill.
Since then, over 150 artists have participated in the program, and the site has expanded to include a sculpture garden and “Dump Farm” for growing vegetables. The city’s recycling laws have also changed as awareness of climate change has grown. San Francisco now requires mandatory composting and recycling, and has a goal that no waste will be sent to the landfill by 2020.
Today, six professional artists and three student artists are chosen to complete the program each year. They work for four months on their pieces, which stretch across variety of mediums, including sculpture, mixed media, collage and photography. The materials are sourced entirely from the dump, and to assist with the scavenging, the artists are supplied with safety gear and an all-important shopping cart.
One such artist is Ma Li, who worked on a living installation while in residency. She created a spring garden using materials she had found, including water bottles, foam, window blinds and plastic tubes.
The following artists all participated in the program in the last five years, and have created works from a wide assortment of discarded items, include wood, string, a surgical knee brace, a headlight and aluminum heat-sinks. Take a look at their unique reuse of San Francisco’s waste.