Modern Archaeology

Wow, it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. Things are rolling along – I’ve collected lots of metal and the wood, but am not completely sure what my show is going to look like. It’s been a fun few weeks of experimenting with my funky finds though. It’s also been interesting to witness now a full month cycle at the station – watching the flow of the pile. One thing is for sure – Get it while it’s hot! I’ve had a number of (briefly sad) missed material connections. The staff on the floor and the yellow iron move fast to get material into their appropriate bins for recycling or up to the folks that sort the rest of it by hand! But, the land of F350s is an overflowing cornucopia.

I had a blast rummaging around with Owen one day, it’s great to have a pickin’ buddy, and I’m looking forward to gleaning with everyone else some more – it’s fun to see what others are after and what they see as useful where it completely escapes me. We had a good chuckle when a customer pointed out a shiny Mercedes toting a junky trailer.

The Househol Hazardous Waste facility, what can I say, this place totally rocks – there’s soo much colorful paint and everything else you shouldn’t get in your eyes, mouth or lungs. The staff there is super awesome too!

The enormous wood pile, has lots of great stuff, most of it just needs a little touch up – removing nails and cutting off a broken end. I bet you could build a house with all the wood that ends up at the station.

It’s sometimes hard to see anything as more than just junk, but it’s sometimes hard not to see everything as potential art! Us archaeologists are going to do our best to discover and bring back to life the artifacts of our time.

Art Angst

These were not cheap!

Argh! Trying to make something come together using unafmiliar materials and working in a larger format is currently –well —frustrating. I have yet to do something that gives me that “yes” moment. Could it be that I am trying too hard? Could it be that I am intimidated by the 4 other fabulous artists that I am sure are making fabulous art without any struggles at all. I’ve been here before. I know it will pass. Meanwhile I have found some good things such as acrylic paint, spray adhesive, Yes! paste, at the Hazmat section. Part of the problem is my head is filled with too many ideas…probably mostly bad ones, but there are usually some good ones in there as well.

The photo is of some silkscreen frames I found. The ink was still wet. I collected 14 of them. I cut out the inked screens and hope to use the solid wood frames for something.

Ground work for a Sculpture

As promised I have some documentation of the process I am going through to make my first large sculpture for the Glean show.  In my last post you saw a pile of beams from my most recent visit to the transfer station.  Though these are large pieces of wood they are not big enough for my purposes.  My intention is to have several life size figurative sculptures ready for September along with a bunch of smaller wood carvings.  To reach this end I am currently laminating beams together in the general profile of the figure I will carve from them.  In the first picture you can see the wood laid out and cut down along with an old hickory broom handle which will be inserted through the wood blocks to create a physical support for them so they do not only have to rely on the strength of the wood glue.  I could have planned these blocks down so they would fit perfectly but part of the fun of using reclaimed materials is to allow the idiosyncrasies to add character to the finished piece.  So once it is all glued together you will still see each individual beam that went into the sculpture. That is the plan anyway I very well might hate it in the end.  We will have to see.

This picture on the left is the form glued up and standing upright.  A huge amount of the material will be removed and carved away before all is said and done.  Right now it is 4.5 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  Even the wood glue came from the transfer station and it took three small bottles to glue it all up.  Below are two images of concepts I am tossing around in my head for what this will become.  The one on the right is a just a sketch and the one on the left is of two maquettes that I carved from a 6 x 4 beam.  If you are familiar with my art at all you will know I mostly carve nude figures but I’ve decided to experiment with clothing in these pieces. In the next few days I will probably finish the two maquettes and experiment with paints I received from the hazardous waste people.  Within a week I will also start roughing out the large figure starting with a chainsaw.

I will keep you posted, pun intended. 


Today’s Findings

Another day of gleaning started off well enough. Received some wood glue, paint, polyurethane, and stains from the hazardous materials folks. So happily I have some finishing products but I still don’t have any wood large enough for the figures I am wanting to create and in the transfer station this morning it was more vacant than I have ever seen it. Luckily it only takes one decent truck load to turn the game around for you. After waiting and aimlessly pacing around for an hour someone showed up with some big sections of old beams ranging from 3″ x 6 ” x 3′ to 4.5″ x 10″ x 6′ definitely enough material to get me going on a big piece. Ideally I would love to get my hands on some huge structural beams from old growth Douglas fir or Redwood sections that can be measured in feet instead of inches but until that fateful day I will be doing some laminating with what I have on hand. In the next few days I will be documenting this process and will keep my posts focused around it.

First Gleaning

Yesterday I gleaned for the first time. I spent the first two hours in Hazardous Waste. Nice people. I realized through my conversations with them that they are true environmental advocates-and not just the kind who say “Hooray for the environment”. They live it every day. I got to go through 5 large bins of construction and house related products, leaving with  185 lbs of cement, caulking, spray foam, polyurethane, paint and glue. These are “no-brainer” necessities for the work I’m about to do. I was stunned by the numbers of unopened containers, as well as by the financial cost represented in these bins. I was happy to learn that a reuse group called Golden Harvesters does redistribute some of these items and that Habitat for Humanity uses some of the construction material. It is a really good idea to separate out anything remotely usable when you are taking things there. There are so many avenues of reuse being employed there.  (Below are 3 of the 5 bins I went through)

The really fun part is in Bay 1. It was Monday. I’d heard that it was mostly business and construction debris on those days and that is OK with me. The weekend is when individuals unload their treasures most often. I kind of like the construction debris. I was drawn to the broken glass and rubble piles. It occurs to me that I’m probably not even looking for the fantastic-thing-that-is-still-usable -and-I-can’t-believe-they-threw-it-away. When I found those things-and I did-St Vincent De Paul or the Rebuilding Center were standing by to receive them. I wound up taking things like packing peanuts, broken glass, Polystyrene and carpet padding-things that were in no short supply! Those feel like important things to me. I feel like I want to document the texture of the place. I already have a pretty solid vision of this installation and that statement is compatible. I left with a total of 220 lbs. I don’t think I’ll be back for a while though, until I’ve tried some processes out to make sure they work. When I got home, I took a long nap.

My First Week of Gleaning

Hello!  First off I would like to say that the employees at the Metro Transfer Station are awesome!  Great experiences already!

I had a really good and informative conversation today with an employee for a non-profit who spends a good deal of time at the transfer station.  The topic was experiences with pests and how to avoid bringing them home with your finds.  This is a rather sobering subject, but it is important.  Kim, Eric, Vicki, and Christopher: Next time you are gleaning and the above employee is there, ask him about this topic.

My first week.  I had a week delay in getting started, but I am not panicking.  As others have stated, materials come and materials go.  During the week, the materials seem to be primarily wastes of business, like remodel and construction…lots of sheet rock.  Friday and Saturday had larger varieties of consumer things and residential wastes…lots of yard debris.  This seems obvious, but it makes a difference with regards to improving one’s chances of certain kinds of materials showing up.  It seems good luck is a gift, yet flexibility provides.

Supposedly this has been an extremely slow week, and compared to Friday, it has been very slow…but check out what came in today!

These crates are mine!  Putting the cart before the horse (crate before the sculpture)!  These are some of the coolest crates ever, and I work with (and make) crates a lot.  Drawbridge-hinged doors that doubles as a ramp and has a steel “dock plate”at the end.  Draw clasp closures!  Palletized on foam cushioned pallets!  Sometimes very small things drive inspiration, other times its four gigantic walk-in crates!  We have the entire space at Disjecta, right?  …ok, maybe I’m panicking a little.





It is interesting to me that almost everyone who comes to the ‘dump’ brings a broom with them to sweep out their truck afterwards. The people and their brooms are so tiny compared to the huge waste piles directly in front of them as they ‘unload’. Though we are cleaning up at one end, we are making a huge mess at the other.

Finding a Balance between a Smile and a Frown

I feel like a kid in a very dirty candy store.  I’ve always loved “junk”. Many of my fondest memories are tied up around gathering treasures off of street curbs, digging through thrift stores, or bidding at an estate sale.  The history inherent in a well used object can be very palpable, the weight of time can be crushing and beautiful.  I love old junk. So needless to say I have been very excited about being able to participate in this years Glean!!  At this point I have gleaned twice and I must say this is a very strange experience.  Much of the joy of finding something cool and unappreciated is there but it is also bathed around some darker feeling.  That feeling isn’t necessarily sadness but maybe closer to shock.  There is just so much!!

While gleaning what I tend to do is stand back and walk along the far side of the bay allowing my eyes to drift over the mass of waste and only approaching when something stands out.  During which time I can feel a very strange expression on my face.  It seems to be a cross between a smile and a frown.  I’m assuming it appears to be a smirk of some kind to an outside observer.  It is very weird to be excited and disgusted at the same time.  Happy at what you can find and sad that it is there to be found.   I do appreciate this awesome opportunity to gather supplies free of charge and more than that to see this side of our society.  I am very interested in seeing what emerges out of the wood I have been gleaning and whether any of the torrent of emotions that goes with gathering it will come out in the final work.

The Sweet Smell of Garbage

Meeting the GLEAN gang and getting the grand tour of The Station last Thursday was perfect. I can tell we’re going to get on really well over the next five months. James showed us around the impressive six acre transfer station, which has four massive bays for the different grades of refuse coming in. We get the pick of the litter – Bay 1 – as clean and dry as it gets.
the tour!the tour!
I couldn’t leave empty handed and stuck around with Kim and Chris to scope out the bay. The three of us wandered around in a sort of daze, trying to make sense of it all. After about an hour, I’d come up with a decent assortment of random items I thought might come in handy. On the drive home, my gears were turning, so as soon as I got home, I called to set up another session for Sunday.
The drive out to the transfer station past Portland’s giant manufacturing facilities and tank farms is the calm before the storm. Bay one is pretty organized for chaos, I quickly forgot that I was at the dump. The sweet, greasy smell, it comes and goes. Just watch what you’re stepping in. The crew on the floor – Jose, John, Anthony and others – are very nice and eager to help out. They’re happy the GLEAN artists are highlighting the functionality of the material they work with and are excited to see what we come up with this year. They all ask me what my thing is, what I’m looking for. At first, I kind of stumble, but as I get into the groove of the pick, I’m able to nail down what exactly I’d like to nab and could use their help to find. It is amazing that Recology’s hard-working miners can pull out nearly 40% of the material to recycle, up from just 17% a short while ago. I couldn’t help myself from pitching in on the sorting effort, picking out some of the big, obvious recyclables to take over to the metal, plastic, wood, or other areas.
the tour!the tour!
Looking at the pile is kind of like watching the ocean. Staring at the wall of discarded material, my vision wavers between focused and blurred. At any single moment, I can see the filthy, busted, or even perfectly good clone of a dozen items that at some point in my life I have used, shared, or cared about. Sanning them neutrally, I search for the diamond in the rough. Yellow iron comes roaring through, scraping away the pile like a calving iceberg. A completely new landscape stands before me. Nothing stays the same on the pile for more than a few minutes. Just when you thought you were done, there’s something new to investigate. The stream is truly endless.
I have not been sleeping well. I lay awake, thinking of the junk I elected to leave, discovering their brilliant future that had eluded me earlier, and knowing that they are gone but that there certainly will be more.