From trash bins to art displays

Smit Parekh

Artist in Residence, a program directed by an SF State alumna, allows artists to create pieces with collected landfill and recyclable trash from the city, with a purpose of reusing waste materials. 

The program was founded in 1990 by Jo Hanson, who was an activist and an artist herself. She pitched the idea of the program to Recology while making scrapbook art from the trash she found in front of her house.

Recology, a 100-year-old resource recovering company that collects trash from most of the residents in San Francisco, celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Artists in Residence program that pays students and professional artists to scavenge through the dump and create pieces that have gotten live viewers of more than 3 million people. 

Director Deborah Munk, describes the AIR program as the education arm of Recology, where they support local artists by accepting two professional artists and a student artist from over 150 applicants. 

Munk says any kind of making creates waste, including the art created at Recology. 

“The materials that the artists use here, all come from the trash anyway, like 99 percent of those materials,” said Munk. Materials that don’t end up used by the artists ends up back in trash or gets picked up by the public at the end of the program. 

“We have a giveaway pile at the openings, so artists will pull things out like furniture, books or clothing and those get distributed to the public,” adds Munk. 

This year’s exhibition will take place on May 22, the day after and one last time on May 26. 

In their last exhibition, a recent SF State graduate, Charlotte Beck, served as the student artist of the program while continuing with classes during her last semester. 

Recology provides student artists with a shipping container as their studio space, and a shopping cart to load up with materials, while each professional artists get a fully equipped studio space and advanced tool set. 

“I also was able to use the facilities on campus because I am [was] a student here, so with both of those resources I was able to create a pretty comprehensive bodywork,” said Beck. 

Beck’s artwork is based on her interest related to witchcraft, also occult themes. That drives her to create 2D prints and collage. She found materials like notebooks and catalogs, from which she created twelve pieces in the end, two of which are showcased at AIR’s main office at 401 Tunnel Ave., San Francisco. 

“They make you feel like your ideas are heard, which is very important for an artist, and you’re basically given free reign to make whatever you want to make,” said Beck. 

Student artists at Recology are given a monthly stipend of $450 and professional artists get $1450 each month during the four month program. 

Current professional San Francisco based artists, Rachel Marino and Malcolm Kenter are creating a mini golf course, and Iranian artist Minoosh Zomorodinia is working on a walk-in installation with an audio-visual experience, all from using the trash they pick up into their shopping cart from a large warehouse full of waste materials. 

During their AIR program tour, which is organized every week for the public, Education Specialist,  Ailsa Harju, said textile is one of the things that is difficult to process at Recology’s recycling center in Pier 96

Student artist at the program and fashion design teacher at UC Berkeley, Leilah Talukder, found a small closet worth of clothes from the dump and is looking forward to working on wearable instrumental art, made from discarded things such as wooden blinds, metal and hard plastic. 

“Going into the art world from being a student is kind of a rough and sticky transition, so to have something like during your career as a student that allows you to sort of experience as a professional artist,” said Talukder