As the resident artist for the second half of 1998, I was encouraged to fish through the “waste stream” looking for materials with which I could make art.  The challenge is of course to transform junk, i.e. to practice alchemy.  Many items that you can find have an implied social meaning, like the elements from an old stove.  Either you have to acknowledge that past function or you have to find some item neutral of meaning.  I sought out scissors, books, electric light fixtures and items for which I could make my rocking chairs.

The X-Mas Displays were successive, satirical arrangements of electric lights that I did at Christmas in 1998 and 1999. I collected all of the fixtures that I used for both these installations in December of 1998. San Franciscans produce more waste during the six weeks from Thanksgiving through the winter holidays than they do at any other time of the year. Perhaps the most egregious waste is the unrestrained use of electric power.

I wanted to somehow comment on the incredible extravagance of dressed windows. The obvious hunk of irony is that I, like many people I suspect, are seduced by the wanton employment of electricity for luminous and showy X-Mas diorama. So as great as my disdain is for decadent expenditures of our world’s natural resources, merely to sell things, I too am bred with a sentimentality for an electric Christmas.

Swing Flowers are musical toys. This sculpture is of steel wire with found metal pieces welded to the top of each upright wire.  Capriciously wobbling at any wind, each loaded wire crashes into another with an echoing, popping sound. Swaying in conical motion, anchored in cement-filled paint cans, my enhanced wires look like a patch of industrial sunflowers on a hillside.  By running my hands over the metal tops, I can play the piece.  The Swing Flowers are arranged in rows, orderly when still, a chaos machine in movement.

I found all of what became the tops of the Swing Flowers in an abandoned train yard across from the dump. As trains pass by, they shed metal.  It felt as if I was an archaeologist digging up the bits of discarded metal. The Hazardous Waste Department provided the paint cans. This piece was made in 1994 before I was the resident artist, and may have made it possible for me to win the residence.

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James Harbison lll's website