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: garbage.
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 clippings.
Sometimes rummaging through people’s junk at the public dump site, 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 archaeologist 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.
Photos for this artist.
Residency: October 2003 - January 2004
Art Exhibition: Friday, January 9
Lori Kay's website