Erinn and Amanda all tired out.
Amanda brushes up on her Algebra while Erinn gleans.
I found this bathroom shelf stand on my very first Glean. Dan took the glass and I was intrigued by the frame. The couple who dropped it off seemed nice enough. They were undergoing some kind of renovation, dropping off various construction debris and this metallic bathroom shelf, shiny and structured. The piece was in decent shape, a little wobbly, metal finish deteriorating in spots but otherwise, a usable piece of furniture that could have been rehomed.
I started thinking about this bathroom shelf and all of the intimate moments it has witnessed. The bathroom is a place of ritual where we perform our ablutions, relax in privacy, think deeply. In many ways this bathroom stand is monument to our fleshy needs, our ablutions, our private release. It stored the objects used for ritual cleaning, healing, decorating faces and bodies.
When I started this project, I was excited about finding stories embedded within things, transforming their value. The more I sift through the pile at the transfer station, the more I am convinced that the reason one reason why we waste so much is because we lose sight of an object’s story. For me, thinking about this bathroom stand as a monument to fleshy, intimate moments, has given it new found purpose and life.
I’ve now begun the process of transforming the piece. Honoring the story that I have gleaned from this object, I have sewn flesh-toned fabric and polyfill to the “bones” of the structure. It is my objective to eliminate the hard lines and structured geometry of the piece, softening it with fleshy curves. I’d like to leave places where one can peak inside the piece, inviting the viewer to gaze into this intimate space.
As I mentioned in my artist’s statement; I’ve been fascinated with blending “artifacts” with “art of fact”. A civilizations dumping ground can reveal amazing details about the culture from which it came. To an archeologist, our “garbage” tells a story of how we lived.
After talking with a friend, about the objects I’ve found while gleaning, he shared this article about discoveries in a Victorian trash heap… Digging Through Victorian Trash for Bone Toothbrushes and Broken Dolls . I found it fascinating.
For me creating art is a form of telling stories. I draw inspiration from my personal life experiences. Those experiences can range from something as simple as a memory of a childhood rhyme to something as dramatic as a life changing event. The materials I choose are “cast offs”… remnants of things gone by. They add a sense of familiarity and history. By doing so, in the same way our collective rubbish can tell a story about our culture, it taps into our collective conscience and allows the viewer to see and/or feel their own experience in the objects I place together.
Here’s a sample of the things that have caught my eye: old rulers and yardsticks, axe and hammer handles, turned legs, pencils, picture frames and some giant olive-shaped wood floats.
I cut one of the wood floats in half lengthwise and just started playing–seeing if I could come up with a pattern or surface that looks interesting.
I haven’t worked this way with materials in a long time, so it’s felt really inspiring to be given the opportunity to explore and play.
It’s a small object that can be made in various shapes and materials, most often to resemble a bird or small prey. The falconer spins the lure around on a cord and the falcon swoops down to grab it. Here’s a link to a video I found that shows the use of a lure.
I love watching the relationship between the bird and human in this video–it reminds me a lot of taking my dog to the park with the chuck-it and ball. I also love the word “lure,” as it can have so many meanings.
My journeys to the “dump” have uncovered some surprising discoveries. Each new discovery has prompted me to reevaluate my expectations and adds an interesting twist to my ongoing narrative.
First there was the “taxidermied pig” which summons an old children’s rhyme of “Tom, Tom the piper’s son…” and provides me with an avenue to address the innocence of childhood.
A discarded pipe organ with tall obelisk type spires conjured images of ancient monoliths and mystical happenings.
The panels from an old beehive sparked a play on words… “BEHAVE”.
And the pile of chairs brought my back memories of summers spent as an artist residence in central France.
I’m not sure how each of these will eventually play out in my art making process… I’ll leave that to my dreams.
I often dream my about work before any construction begins. In the morning when I wake I draw a rudimentary sketch and make notes of possible materials to use. This helps to galvanize my thoughts. As the creative process evolves my dreams become more detailed.
I’m excited to see where this continuing journey will lead…
After several sessions at the dump, my jaw still drops when things appear en mass. I stand there, mouth agape, trying to get a rise out of the regular Metro employees (who obviously see this all the time), my fellow artists (if they happen to be around), anyone (?!?), to match the level of guttural disgust and societal sadness I feel as I watch the multitudinous items dropped from the vehicle with a heave, a pitch, a plop. Smash.
The multiples, I notice, are usually offloaded by the same individual or party, and when they ditch in quantity, they ditch the good stuff: the next-to-new, the barely used, at times even the pristine.
This last day, I saw at least a dozen immaculate West Elm sectionals, twice as many really good mattresses, a brand new looking futon and two amazing Ikea chairs lofted into the detritus. My heart sank. Why not a quick run to the Goodwill, I wondered? A spot on the lawn with a sign that says “free”? I thought of all the homes in need of a few new sleek sectionals to replace the stinky, threadbare sofa or the stained, broken Lazy Boy recliner…homes that probably couldn’t afford such “luxury”.
The worst part was that I was witness to these items’ transition from nearly new, to unusable. Because when the item is tossed from the truck, it is literally tossed-the corners get dinged up, a leg smashes, the spotless upholstery is caked with dump sludge. And then it IS garbage.
With a little rummaging, I discovered that much of the furniture had been [purchased and] used for a one-off event; a blowout complete with craft beers, catered food and, clearly, a swank lounge area for classy chillin’.
Days spent digging through trash are a loooooong way- clear on the other side of the spectrum- from my day job. When I am not finding treasures amongst trash at the dump, my paid work involves this very kind of scenario above. One-off events are what we do. In the last month, I’ve already found myself several times on the soapbox over food waste. But the furniture takes it to another level. It is a lot to bare.
Intuition tells me this juxtaposition between my worlds will grow increasingly more stark as this residency continues, and will likely be a thread in the artistic product of my accumulated trash.
One of the questions I was asked when I was interviewed for this residency was what I planned on making during the six month period. My response was that I felt that having a period of time to observe the facility, collect materials, and research ideas as they emerge seemed like the best way to create a body of work that is both in keeping with the themes I already explore, and talk in a meaningful way about my residency. Here’s my journey so far:
I’ve been to the Metro Transfer Station three times now. One of the requirements of the residency is that we check in at Recology and get a manifest or bill of lading to help Metro keep its records accurate about what this program is reclaiming from the waste system. Our vehicles are weighed when we enter and exit, just as any car, but they are interested in the pounds of material we are taking out. My first “glean” removed 20 pounds, my second was 40 pounds, and yesterday logged at 100 pounds of materials removed. I have been adding notes about what I take each time on my receipts when I get home, just because it’s another interesting way of keeping a journal or record of the time.
I have also spent some time talking to the folks who run the falcons on the property, which has subsequently spawned an obsession with this variety of raptors. I’ve always been a songbird gal myself, but am really taken with the idea that one bird is used to control another bird to make human life better. I was told that there’s less hunting happening now that the seagulls and pigeons have been trained to know that the falcons may be watching them. I’ve been loving the brand new book Peregrine Spring by Nancy Cowan, where she recounts her journey into the world of raptors. I also spent some time learning more about our local peregrine population on the Portland Audubon website. Apparently 6% of the state’s nesting sites are located within the Portland metro area, and you can see lots of gorgeous photos of them on our bridges on the Audubon website. I have been particularly fascinated with this one, which shows a baby peregrine imprinting on a puppet of an adult–part of the fascinating recovery of the species that was once endangered due to DDT exposure.
I have two bodies of work in mind at this point, and my plan is to keep gleaning on a regular basis, and to start making some exploratory work with my ideas to see what has legs. I am excited to start using my hands and intuition at this stage of the GLEAN journey.
Let’s just talk about this sweet, little red crate I found at the transfer station on my first day of gleaning. Little beauty, right? The cherry red color caught my eye and I thought it would be a perfect base on which to build a sculpture. It’s a little damaged and crunched, which creates a lovely curve to usually straight box lines.
Since I’m collecting stories from the objects I Glean, I decided to ask my almost 4 year-old son the story of this crate. Without any hesitation, he informed me that this crate was a banana box that has been shipped in a large truck. Apparently, the truck got into an accident and a bad guy came along and turned it into gold. Then a good guy showed up and turned it back into a red crate. Finally, it has reached its destination and we will turn it into art soon.
Before it gets to be art, this crate has enjoyed a second life as a wonderful plaything for my son. Since it’s recent arrival at my house, it has been a cave, a boat, and a mountain to climb. For my children, this crate is a magnificent object with endless possibilities. If only we all saw stuff with children’s eyes, I think our waste troubles would be behind us.
Yesterday, I suited up and headed out to my first day at the dump. I had no exact plan, figuring I’d rely on my intuition to guide my experience. The scale of things at the transfer site inherently dwarfs an individual, and I thought at once that perhaps I shouldn’t have come ALONE for my first glean. Too intense?
But here I was.
At orientation they told us “set aside three to four hours per visit”, and I’ll admit, at first this made no sense to me. A task-master at heart, I thought I’d roll in, pick, roll out. Hour-thirty, max. After all, I can go any time.
I quickly learned that the metal pile is my foundation. The crumpled pieces of discarded appliances will serve as armature for rolling hills, climbing peaks, river banks, and craters. It seems natural to start large, and work my way down to the minute details as things take form.
I spent a good deal of my time disassembling the components of a busted up dryer and laying them strategically to mimic land.
I also found an old car bench seat with leather covering, which I compulsively and stubbornly removed with the irrational commitment only an artist knows.
I knew a landscape lay underneath.
The practice of playing around with these materials and staging photographs provides clarity for future gleans, and for the forms these scraps will finally evolve to become.
As a final note, while diligently (madly?) ripping that leather cover off my foamy landscape, I found a single dime, so pressed into the foam on the underside of the seat that I really had to grip it with pliers to pry it off. It left a circular impression behind. An echo, a trace memory of its existence there. To many the dime may have little significance, may draw absolutely no attention or extra thought. But in my experience, the dime is a sign.
Years ago, when my mother found out she had stage four cancer, she began finding dimes EVERYWHERE. No other coins, just dimes. In great quantities…in her shoe, the dishwasher, her coat pocket from last winter. On the floor of the car immediately after she’d vacuumed it out. Soon, my brother and I started finding them too. Bizarre-ly. Everywhere. We learned that others found dimes too. I made a painting for her about the dimes (link to old blog post here) and they became a symbol of hope, however trite.
Think what you will.
In my mind, this dime is a sign of support and possibility. It’s mom, letting me know she’s watching it all unfold. As I pulled the dime from its nesting spot, I said aloud to the ether “hey, mom” in recognition, then looked down at toward the ground at my feet, and found another dime.