SOU art students and Recology – “Trash into Art”

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL. (photo by Chella Foster Flynn)

SOU art students and Recology – “Trash into Art”

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Overview of the sculpture garden site.
Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Overview of the sculpture garden site. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Artworks are created to “…raise public awareness of environmental needs such as source reduction of waste, recycling and resource conservation.”

Recology Ashland
Wood sign for the Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program.
Wood sign for the Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Public art can elicit smiles and good feelings. It can create controversy – and often does. Public art can also stimulate thoughtful conversations in the community, which is the goal of this Recology-SOU Artist-in-Residency program. As I spoke with the five student artists at the May 17th opening at the sculpture garden, I realized that making “art from trash” led them to think long and hard about some deep philosophical questions, in their own lives and in our culture.

I’d like to introduce you to the artists and their artworks, going from east to west in SOU’s new Mario and Edie Campagna Sculpture Garden. I began my conversation with each of them by asking: “What was your inspiration for creating this?”

At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Photo of artist: Adam Garrett. Title: "To be loved is to be changed."
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Photo of artist: Adam Garrett. Title: “To be loved is to be changed.” (photo by Peter Finkle)

“What was your inspiration for creating this?”

Adam replied, “I’m a big fan of nostalgic things, like toys and childhood memories. With the Recology program, our focus was on the reuse of objects and the importance of recycling. With that, combined with my love of childhood toys, I wanted to focus on repurposing things with the idea that your objects can grow with you. Even if you outgrow these toys, you can find new purposes for them. That’s why I turned them into planters.”  

As I was writing this article, I went back to take more photos of the art on June 5. Unfortunately, the plants in Adam’s toy-planter-boxes had died. I hope they will be replaced with new plants.

Adam made the artwork from a repurposed toy kitchen, a tricycle, a toy shopping cart, a swing and a plastic pumpkin. Perhaps to recognize Recology, there’s a toy garbage truck. Barbie is even part of the montage. I thought these were all part of a set of almost-new toys. Adam explained that he had found beat-up toys, then repainted them to provide a cohesive look for the artwork. 

At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Photo of the artist: Cameron Daniel Whiting. Title: Orange Bear.
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Photo of the artist: Cameron Daniel Whiting. Title: Orange Bear. (photo by Peter Finkle)

“What was your inspiration for creating this?”

Cameron responded: “My core inspiration for this is my childhood teddy bear. Growing up, I had a Nashville-bear beanie baby that was orange – and I still have him. His name is ‘Orange Bear.’ So this art piece is called ‘Orange Bear.’ 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my family and about cycles of growth in my art. This piece is about relationship to the self; how as you grow up, you are still the same person with many core traits, but you at the same time grow away from yourself. You live in new places. You walk through new doors and never walk through them again.” Cameron said the artwork “shows two pieces of the same whole” person, seen as they are traveling a linear path through time. I got the impression of Cameron as a child and Cameron becoming an adult, both shown in the art.

Curious, I pointed to the large bear at the top of the artwork and asked, “Is this you, with Orange Bear?” Cameron explained, “Yes, I am being held as I’m breaking through the door, but at the same time, I’m still orange. I still hold Orange Bear within me.”

Everything in the artwork – the door, bears, doll and more — was found at the Valley View Transfer Station. Cameron surprised me when they said, “My favorite part of this residency was talking to the people who came to the dump. I’d say ‘Hi, I’m the artist-in-residence. Is it okay if I look through what you’re throwing out today?’ They might say ‘this is gross, this is actual trash, you don’t want to touch this,’ or they might say: ‘Please do; I’m getting rid of this stuff that was my father’s or my child’s; I don’t really want to throw it away; I think you could make art with this.’

One especially poignant encounter was with a man whose son had died. He was clearing out his son’s place, bringing cherished possessions to the dump. As Cameron talked with him, the man implored, “Here, you should take this leather bag; I think you guys could use this.” It was his son’s motorcycle side bag.

As Cameron reflected on this emotional experience, he understood that the man didn’t want to let go of his son’s stuff, but that there’s also a limit to what you can hang on to without becoming a hoarder. It got Cameron thinking about the nature of trash. Most of us own lots of stuff, but when we move on we get rid of it, and suddenly what was “stuff” becomes “trash.”

[we both laughed as Cameron said this]  
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Photo of artist: Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL.
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Photo of artist: Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL. (photo by Peter Finkle)

“What was your inspiration for creating this?”

Carli expressed their vision: “Ever since I heard about this project, I knew I wanted to make a gladiator. I had this vision in my head, and I really wanted to use street signs. I decided on a gladiator-type figure made out of street signs. Kind of like how gladiators in history were thrown into the ring, and once they die they’re thrown out again, then they’re forgotten. With trash too, once you throw it away you forget about it, you don’t think about where it ends up. 

“I wanted to play with that idea, especially with this recycled metal. Look at all of these wrench parts. Someone threw a toolbox away. They were perfectly good tools. So why would you throw that away?” 

Detail of piece by artist Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL.
Detail of piece by artist Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Carli made an interesting point about street signs. Street signs guide us. They are everywhere, “iconic and commanding.”  Then, at some point, they become trash. How does that happen?

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL. (photo by Chella Foster Flynn)
Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Artist: Carli Lamberto. Title: ROADKiLL. (photo by Chella Foster Flynn)

Looking at the large sculpture and its hundreds of parts, I said, “You did a lot of welding!” Carli replied, “Oh, yeah; there was a lot of welding!” Carli had taken a welding sculpture class in the fall term, and the skill came in handy when they were chosen for this artist-in-residency program.

At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Naia Duggan. Title: "Child, Mother, Crone, Trash."
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Photo of artist: Naia Duggan. Title: “Child, Mother, Crone, Trash.” (photo by Peter Finkle)

“What was your inspiration for creating this?”

“My inspiration was the three stages of life, that go alongside the three stages of trash,” Naia said. “It includes three chandeliers, and the first one is hanging up in the gallery. [The Chairs Gallery in SOU’s Marion Ady art building] The first one is called When the moment passes and we all forget. It is made with things that break down really quick that I found in the trash, like letters and photos and those cherished memories that really make a human life, but are so easily lost. It is the most delicate and ethereal. 

“The second chandelier is called The midlife trash crisis you’ve been waiting for. It is kind of like the midlife crisis of work and the world, with falling into material items and capitalism. These are the items that have fallen into disrepair.  How about the “2001 Champion of Mothers” presented to Susan (and retrieved from the dump)?

Detail of piece by artist Naia Duggan. Title: "Child, Mother, Crone, Trash."
Detail of piece by artist Naia Duggan. Title: “Child, Mother, Crone, Trash.” (photo by Peter Finkle)

“The third one is called Around for a long time, not a good time. This is like what remains with the bones of the trash, what we’re going to be surrounded by when our bones are all that’s left of us. A lot of metal.”

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Naia Duggan. Title: "Child, Mother, Crone, Trash."
Detail of piece by artist Naia Duggan. Title: “Child, Mother, Crone, Trash.” (photo by Peter Finkle)

Naia had learned to weld in the fall term, along with Carli, and did plenty of welding to make this artwork. “I really loved the skill of welding. I enjoyed working with metal. It feels like I could make almost anything now.” 

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Naia Duggan. Title: "Child, Mother, Crone, Trash."
Overview of piece by artist Naia Duggan. Title: “Child, Mother, Crone, Trash.” (photo by Peter Finkle)
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Photo of artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives.
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Photo of artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives. (photo by Peter Finkle)

“What was your inspiration for creating this?”

Mel replied that as she thought about the project, she decided to create an interactive piece. “I was journaling and writing and sketching, and came to this idea of a tower shape. Each of the rings represents a moment in time, and how an individual moment might not feel significant or important in life, but later on down the road it can turn into something significant or be the support of a moment you can’t have even imagined.”

She wanted it to be interactive, partly because it is a temporary installation. The goal is to not only to connect the audience with art, but also to connect the audience together. She hopes some people will remember a moment of interacting with the artwork, together with their friends.

At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives.
At the opening for Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Mel sliced most of these narrow circles out of metal tubes like old bikes, poles, and hollow discarded metal, using a horizontal band saw. She followed that by tumbling them, so they would keep their character but be smoother, and safer to touch. Finally, every ring had to be welded together into the whole, and also welded into Mel’s vision.

I find it interesting how the rings of the sculpture (the moments of life) flow together, work together and support each other.

Recology Ashland/SOU "artist in residency" program, turning "trash" into art. Artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives.
Recology Ashland/SOU “artist in residency” program, turning “trash” into art. Artist: Mel Villarreal. Title: Passing Time, Shifting Perspectives. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Reflecting on my conversations with these five young artists, I was struck by the common theme of “time” that all of them incorporated into their artworks. Each took a deep philosophical dive as they tried to visualize what they could create from the trash objects they found at the Transfer Station. Several were very personal, trying to express ways their own lives have changed through time. Others took a bigger-picture perspective, all the way to asking questions about our possessions in relation to our values – and life and death.

Recology sponsors a similar Artist-in-Residency program at several cities where they provide garbage and recycling services. The program began at Recology San Francisco in 1990. The company website describes their San Francisco program: “Since 1990, over 150 professional artists and 50 student artists from local universities and colleges have completed residencies. These emerging, mid-career, and established artists have worked across disciplines—including new media, video, painting, photography, performance, sculpture, and installation—to explore a wide range of topics.”

The quote below from Andrew Gay reminds me of the many times I have heard SOU President Rick Bailey make a commitment that the university will collaborate more with the community of Ashland. President Bailey walks his talk, and this project is one of many examples to show that SOU Creative Arts leaders, staff and students clearly feel the same drive to reach out.

Andrew Gay, Director of the School of Arts & Communication and the Oregon Center for the Arts
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