Garbage made me violently ill. If
I smelled refuse when I was pregnant, I would throw up. My
friends and family kindly put the trash outside when I was around.
I am reminded of this period every time I get a
whiff of the wet garbage as I walk up to the 2,000 square foot
dream studio: fully equipped, cavernous, 24-hour access, no noise
limitation, the luxury of a knowledgeable technician, a renaissance
program director and seemingly unlimited supply of used material:
I have experienced garbage in ways that
I never knew existed. The intimate
relationship of physically scavenging through trash gives birth
to art out of found objects. This
process involves all the senses: the smell, the immense volume
of noise from the trucks and machinery, the sophisticated conveyor
belts and the ability of the people whose job is reverse manufacturing
- sorting and recycling garage into the different classifications
- glass, cans, metal, hazardous, wood, paper, plastic and yard
Sometimes rummaging through people's junk
at the public dumpsite, a portrait emerges. These
belongings are so personal: the clothes and accessories they
wore, old diaries, love letters, photos, books, magazines and
mementos. Once loved and treasured,
they reveal lives. Dumped on
the ground or in bins, these discarded lives are loaded up as
landfill. Just being near the
stuff makes me feel uncomfortable, an unwilling voyeur, tasting
the lives of strangers.
This residency is the ultimate creative
challenge - reality television made manifest for the artist.
A three-month marathon to pluck
gems out of the waste stream, then recontextualize these objects
in innovative ways to produce a whole new body of work for a
solo exhibition at the end. To
scavenge or not to scavenge, the decision must often be made
instantly before the item is scooped away. Hands
speedily sort the garbage and gargantuan bulldozers swoop down,
devouring objects in its metal jaws sometimes within minutes.
It is an open-ended test of creativity
- finding everyday objects and questioning, "What can
I make out of this? Why am I
attracted to this object?" Then
comes the next stage: "So what if the design may be good
or clever? I can engineer a sculpture
or utilitarian object efficiently but what is it that I am saying?" At
last comes the hardest questions: "Does what I create transcend
junk and become art to me? Is
this the direction I want my art to go? If
I make a totem of trash, does it have to be beautiful?
Is it enough that it is a vertical time capsule,
a statement of what we used and tossed out as a culture that
some future archeologist might deconstruct? Or
are these objects only on a reprieve until my sculpture is tossed
into landfill exile?" If
all this internal dialogue becomes incessant chatter, I mentally
turn off and look at the form, color, texture, and material content
of the stuff as it is unloaded by the public from backs of vans,
trucks and cars. I like to watch
the variety of people come and go. I
feel honored to work along side the unsung heroes whose work
is garbage - how hard, efficient and rhythmic they move, drive,
and design to get much needed and valuable work done.
This residency is a wholesome wonderful
bi-polar experience. The physicality of hauling junk as sculpture
material and then welding, assembling, constructing sculpture
to the internal dialogue of art, design, archivability and structural
engineering. Another juxtaposition
is the welcomed contrast between garbage plant life and home
life. I spend part of the day
blending in as one of guys, donning heavy steel-toed work boots,
an unfashionable bright orange vest, a hardhat, gloves and safety
goggles. In the studio, my rich-smelling
leather welding jacket awaits for the moment when abstract concepts
give birth to tangible objects relished anew by others.
Then going home, I wash off the grime, let down my hair
and change into soft white cotton with lace.
Finally, the day ends cuddling, singing and rocking my
beautiful twin toddlers with my husband. A
day of creating closing with the created.
to artist's own web page at www.lorikay.com.
Lori Kay was the
at SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc. from October 10, 2003 to
January 15, 2004. Her reception was
held on Friday, January 9, 2004.