Make Art, Not Trash
A recycled art contest yields inventive results.
Thursday, October 25, 2001
The Monterey Regional Waste Management District specializes in redemption; last year "the dump" diverted 38 percent of 335,000 tons of refuse into recycling programs, taking society''s least deniable source of shame and giving it renewed usefulness.
So it stands to reason that this resourceful agency would find a way to take garbage and turn it into art. Three years ago the district hosted its first Recycled Art Show, inviting local artists to pick through the Last Chance Mercantile''s array of desirable detritus and use their findings to create sculptures on the theme of recycling. Earlier this month it held the second such contest to honor the district''s 50th anniversary.
The 10 winning pieces of the juried event are on display at the district''s Marina facility and will remain there for a year. All are monuments to the human imagination, from Anne Pettit''s mobile constructed from 50 pieces of broken glass and mirror, a seagull painted on each, to Steve Gally''s "Millennium de Milo," a graceful tribute to the classical sculpture of the love goddess--fashioned from a refrigerator cooling unit.
There were some rules: all materials had to come from the dump, and anything selected from the Last Chance Mercantile had to be priced $10 or less. With these casual guidelines in place, the artists donned orange vests for visibility and carte blanche and went to work. All their pieces are notable, but a few stand out as particularly inspired.
Robert Downey''s "Mssrs. MeRWeMD Do the 50th Anniversary Waltz" is a 20-foot-tall pair of shabbily dapper dancers. Downey, a self-taught artist, started with a ladder and affixed to it a number of objects: a crumpled copper tank for the Missus'' skirt (a bouquet of flowers was stuffed in the drain), plaid sofa cushions for Mr. MeRWeMD''s pants, a blue tarp for her blouse, a waterbed mattress for his jacket.
"It was a monster project," says Downey. "It''s given me courage to go for the big stuff." Downey, who has strong opinions about his avocation (of abstract art, he asks, "What''s the point?"), will spend his first-prize booty of $1,000 on a ticket home at Christmas for his son, a paramedic in Taos, New Mex., where there is plenty of abstract art to flee.
Near Downey''s dancers, third-prize winner Emmanual Ferrand''s "L''Ouragan (The Tempest)" spins in the wind. Ferrand''s graceful weathervane, constructed from metal scrounged at the district, assembles various confounding objects, all of which move freely. Ferrand went to the Hazardous Material Recycling shed for paint and drizzled the whole thing with bright paint. A principal feature of the gorgeous weathervane is a stylized recycle logo, the familiar triangle updated for the next 50 years.
One of the most striking pieces is Thomas Jaksha''s "Otiat," or "One''s Trash Is Another''s Treasure." This sleek, spare piece of modern work owes its existence to a fire door that Jaksha found at Last Chance, then separated, cleaned, and painted red on the inside. Intending to paint the silver exterior, Jaksha sanded the metal surface and found he liked the pattern, so he left it unpainted. Red-painted small and large aluminum can bottoms (regular cola cans and Foster''s "oilcans") line one side of the sculpture. Copper pipe "stitches" and wine bottles adorn the other. Jaksha, whose brother George has a piece (a mobile made from golf clubs and copper) hanging in the district''s offices, says he enjoyed the camaraderie of the enterprise. "I was expecting people to be stuffy," says the second-place winner, "but everyone was on the same level."
For sheer drama, Ed Leeper''s piece may take the cake. Leeper, who once made 6 million hatch marks on paper to commemorate the dead of the Holocaust, found 50 pieces of lumber for each year of the district''s existence, painted a year on each, and placed various objects at the base of each upright pole: a Rubik''s cube at the base of 1977, a tire iron under 1961. Perched on a mesa a quarter-mile from the district''s administrative headquarters and framed by the Santa Cruz mountains in the background, it''s an impressive installment in an inspired and unlikely exhibition.