SF State students turn abandoned street furniture into artwork

Brittany Barsotti
Pieces of art from the Recombinant Furniture exhibit are displayed at the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery at SF State. Photos by Brittany Barsotti.

Most people would pass by a broken-down chair, rotting and tattered with age on the side of the street, and forget about it. But a student in Mimi Sheiner’s design process class would pick it up and take it home to turn it into a part of a unique piece of functional art.

The art that students in Sheiner’s art classes created over two semesters will be featured in the Recombinant Furniture exhibit in the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery throughout the month of September. The exhibit will contain unique pieces such as chairs made from other chairs and lamps constructed from other furnishings.

Sheiner first came up with the idea for the project after seeing an exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that featured work by a variety of artists who took unexpected items to create furniture and other items. Martino Gamper’s work at this exhibit struck Sheiner particularly because of the way she felt he had created a “new language” by rearranging what would be considered standard parts of a chair. She wanted to have students make chairs to create their own language and statement.

“When you see good art, it changes the way you view the world for at least a few hours or days,” Sheiner said. “(Observers) won’t drive by furniture on the side of the road without thinking about its potential.”

For design and industry major and senior Charlie Prather, this assignment worked well as he already collects chairs he finds laying around in the SOMA on a regular basis. For his piece Prather used three different chairs, an old muni bench, a chair he found in the Tenderloin, and one that was almost completely rotted away but was repaired with a new piece of wood.

“This really helped open my eyes into repurposing goods; you don’t have to go and buy a new chair,” Prather said. “I always knew about thrift stores but you can get something entirely unique by repurposing a chair that looks totaled or trashed. This probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a project.”

According to Ali Hawkes, student and assistant manager for the art gallery at SF State, this will be the first time furniture of this type will be featured in the gallery. This will also be one of few exhibits that features entirely student-produced work.

“It’s important to feature student work, but our focus is on the art first,” Hawkes said. “We show art for art’s sake and not for business’s sake. Luckily we don’t have to worry, most galleries have to sell work to stay in business, but we have more freedom in what we show.”

If someone is interested in purchasing work, the gallery directs him or her to the artist.

Sheiner is particularly excited about the exhibit because of its unique theme.

“It gives legitimacy to the idea that seems absurd at the onset,” Sheiner said.

The Recombinant Furniture exhibit will hold its opening reception Thursday, Sept. 1 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m at the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery. The show will run through Sept. 30.