Go see some trash art this weekend + Interview with trash artist Jenny Odell

First, a story: Once upon a time I found a box of old paint cans on my sidewalk. Thinking they were my neighbors’, I pushed them over the property line in a huff. The next day, the neighbors had pushed them back. This resulted in a month-long game of retaliatory can-scooting. Neighborly relations reached all-time lows.

Being a pushover (har) I finally thought “screw this” and drove them down to the dump, muttering all the way.

As it turns out, the trip to Recology was a delight. I pulled up the designated paint area and a bunch of guys in lab coats swarmed my car telling me to stay inside. They opened my trunk and quickly removed all the cans, then dumped them into vats with similar colors. Not a minute later, I was handed a receipt and sent off.

On my way out, I noticed a bunch of cool sculptures made from trash lining the surrounding hills. Turns out, they give away the recycled paint and use it for art projects. My conclusion was: Recology rules.

Now, to the point:

Recology has an annual artist-in-residency program, which also rules. Our pal Jenny Odell was lucky (?) enough to get one of the spots this year along with Chris Sollars and Roger Ourthiague.

Jenny is working on a project where she has painstakingly documented the origins, history, and value of trash that she has found in “the pile”. She has archived her findings in a blog and book called the Bureau of Suspended Objects, which will be available at the show. We talked to her a bit about what’s in store.

Mission Mission: So what’s daily life at Recology like?

Jenny Odell: It probably depends on the artist, but for me, a typical day at Recology involves me going into “the pile” with a shopping cart that I fill up with trash and e-waste, trying to maneuver that mini pile (in my cart) back to the studio without it falling over, and then spending the rest of the day in my studio researching those objects…. with occasional breaks to eat the tomatoes in the garden outside. Oh, and I should add that we listen to records we found in the trash on a record player we found in the trash.

MM: There’s a garden?

JO: Yeah, there is a whole outdoor area adjoining the studio(s), some of which gets used by the other artist for big sculpture projects, and the rest of which is a garden that the Recology employees tend to… strawberries, kale, etc. There is also a small, weird pod-like dwelling, a pizza oven, and a giant dumpster that I recently took great pleasure in heaving a giant Red Bull refrigerator into.

MM: What does a piece of trash gotta do to charm its way into your cart?

JO: Hm… it’s hard to say. A lot of stuff I get from the pile sits in purgatory for a long time, and some was never archived. I think whether or not I pick something up, and then whether it gets archived, has less to do with the individual object and more to do with creating an archive (currently 200 objects) that presents a balanced portrait of ‘stuff.’ Ideally it has enough different stuff (old and new, nice and gross, cool/vintage and decidedly uncool, etc.) that an alien could come to earth, look at the archive, and get a sense of “human things.”

MM: You mentioned supplying the studio’s music from the pile. Do you end up using a lot of the other stuff you find?

JO: Yep, although the irony is that I often end up forgetting to archive that stuff — my wireless keyboard, my Apple mouse (connects to my computer as “Laura’s Mouse”), some Nikes, tons of office supplies. Oh, and I recently started using the old (mechanical) Apple keyboard I found. Very satisfying.

MM: Did you see anything particularly horrible in “the pile”?

JO: Once, I saw an abandoned, half-eaten cheeseburger (right next to what ended up being Item 157, 1973 edition of Divine Principle). But otherwise it was mostly just weird smells here and there. Everything in there is so smushed together that sometimes it’s a challenge to even find anything identifiable amidst the construction debris and fragments of things.

MM: What’s your favorite piece of trash in the Bureau?

JO: Right now my favorite piece of trash is the bunch of cassette tapes I found with handmade covers. It’s someone’s music collection from the 90s. I made a YouTube playlist of the albums that I’ve been jamming out to while I get ready for the show.

MM: What’s the grossest piece?

JO: There are several, but one particularly gross piece is a completely destroyed CD drive from 2000 that is covered in what I think is mud.

MM: What’s the oldest piece?

JO: The oldest thing is a 1905 issue of The Modern Priscilla, a women’s magazine containing ads for, among other things, weight gain / bust improvement programs, vibrators, and cures for cocaine addiction. There’s also a bank ledger from 1906!

MM: What’s the strangest piece?

JO: (pictured below) I screamed a little when I opened the box.

MM: Do you have any new opinions about society after digging through its trash?

JO: I don’t know if this is necessarily a new opinion, but it really drives home the idea that there’s no such thing as ‘trash’… just people who want the new version of something and are too lazy to fix it or find a new home for it. Most of the stuff I find still works or just needed one thing fixed. Being at the dump has just made me wonder how differently we might treat objects if it weren’t so easy to get new ones (and have them delivered overnight with Amazon Prime).

Thanks Jenny! Here’s all of the details for how to see the Bureau of Suspended Objects this weekend.

Art Studio at 503 Tunnel Ave.
Environmental Learning Center Gallery at 401 Tunnel Ave.

Reception: Friday, September 18, 5-9pm
Reception: Saturday, September 19, 1-3pm
Additional viewing hours: Tuesday, September 22, 5-7pm with gallery walk-through with artists at 6:00pm at 503 Tunnel Avenue

Pro Tip #1: You’ll get the most out of this show if you download a QR reader and this app onto your phone.

Pro Tip #2: There is a “free pile” where the artists have deposited items they didn’t end up using. Apparently, this the main attraction to a dedicated group of dumpster-diving types, so if you’re into that, bring a bag and your best shoving arms.

Represent your favorite local infrastructure

Tired of the incessant Sutro Tower worship, Britta made these rad buttons celebrating our lesser-known local infrastructure.

I managed to get one of the last Bernal Towers (known to locals as “Sutrito”), but she was unsurprisingly fresh out of the more dreamy Mission Telco. Hopefully we’ll get a few more buildings by the second run! I’d personally like to throw SFFD Station 9‘s training facility into the hat.

We were into Mission Telco waay before it blew up, BTW.

Ralph Carney talks BoJack Horseman, bass trombone, and Nicholas Cage

If you’ve watched Netflix’s first original animated series BoJack Horseman, you probably noticed that the opening credits sequence totally rules. Maybe you also happen know that one of the composers of the theme music is Patrick Carney, drummer for the Black Keys.

But I bet you didn’t know that the co-writer of the track and the guy who layered all that sweet saxophone on it is his uncle and local musician Ralph Carney, who you may have seen around town playing with Gaucho, the Cottontails, and Serious Jass Project.

Oh, are those acts a little too underground? Well then maybe you’ve heard his past work with Tom Waits, the B-52s, Elvis Costello, and They Might Be Giants.

Once, Harvey Pekar wrote a comic about him:

Ralph is a rare jazz musician who brings something that it’s sorely needed to the genre: a sense of humor. You can’t help but smile every time you see him play. But it’s not a gimmick, it’s in his DNA. Tom Waits once described him best: “He’s guided by some other source of information. He’s like a broken toy that works better than before it was broken.”

We chatted with Ralph recently about the theme song, and other pretty interesting stuff:

MM: So how did you get approached to do this project?

Ralph Carney: Patrick from the Black Keys was asked to do a theme for the show and he sent them this track that we already finished last November. It was his first tune from his newly built home studio. The producers loved it. They edited it down from 4 minutes to 30 seconds or so.

It was a lucky break. Patrick and I have been trading files on and off since around 2007 but nothing had ever come of any of it till this.

MM: So you had no idea you were writing something for a show about an anthropomorphic horse?

Ralph Carney: Haha nope. It wasn’t really composed for the show, but it worked for them. I got a text from Patrick in April saying, “I think we have a sync deal.” I thought he meant something about plumbing.

MM: It’s awesomely sax-heavy. When I first heard it I thought it was a lead guitar. Then other parts of it sound like a guitar chunking out power chords. How many tracks of saxophone are on there?

Ralph Carney: There are 3: tenor, soprano and baritone. The soprano didn’t make the theme but there is some in the 4 minute version that will be out on iTunes soon, I hear. And one bass trombone part.

MM: Haha awesome. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing. Patrick Carney has been pretty open about your influence on his musical career. Did you encourage him a lot as a kid?

Ralph Carney: Well I know he liked the Tin Huey record on Warner Brothers, and as he got older he thought it was cool he had an uncle who was on a record. Not sure if I musically influenced him, though.

I turned him on to weird children’s records and the Shaggs when he was in high school and came to visit in 1996 or so.

MM: Oh yeah, the Shaggs influence is clear.

Ralph Carney: His first musical output which I have on cassettes is pretty out there. That is why I was kinda surprised when he played me the first Black Keys stuff. I thought Dan was an African American. Also, I didn’t know he (Patrick) was a drummer. The rest is history, I guess.

MM: How long have you been in San Francisco?

Ralph Carney: Since 1995. I moved to Oakland in 1989, two weeks before the earthquake.

MM: Glad that didn’t scare you off. Do you think there’s been much opportunity for the working musician here?

Ralph Carney: It depends on what you are trying to do I guess, I think it is harder for young people in rock bands. Too expensive. But as far as the kind of gigs I do, it is not so bad, plenty of restaurants and bars to play old music.

You have heard it all before from Patti Smith, David Byrne, etc. Meaning here, NYC, etc. are no longer cheap like in the mid to late 70′s.

MM: Maybe I’m venting now, but it also seems like the going rate for the working session musician hasn’t changed since the ’60s.

Ralph Carney: Agreed! I sometimes wonder what I was thinking and then a thing like BoJack comes up.

MM: What else do you have going on musically these days?

Ralph Carney: Just recording stuff for various singers in my home studio. And then local gigging.

(Editors note: Ralph is being modest. “Various singers” includes St. Vincent. Here is his playing on the track “Digital Witness” on her record from this year.)

Ralph Carney: I just played a wedding for Roman Coppola. That was exciting, seeing Nic Cage yell at his kid.

MM: Haha the goth kid?

Ralph Carney: Hahaha, I don’t think he was there. They were a lot younger and not goth. There was a lake and Cage yelled to be in the water where “I CAN SEE YOU!!!” (in his best Nic Cage impression)

MM: Yeah, plus goths don’t swim.

Ralph Carney: Hell no!

MM: Where are you playing these days?

Ralph Carney: Well I play all over S.F. and now suddenly Alameda.

(Editor’s note: More Ralph vagueness. I happen to know Ralph blows on his bizarre assortment of horns every Wednesday 8-10pm at Amnesia with Gaucho, and every 3rd Sunday at the Riptide with the Cottontails. Also various nights here at there at the Rite Spot Cafe under his own name.)

Thanks Ralph! I should also mention that all the fantastic character design in the show was done by the Bay Area (now LA) artist Lisa Hanawalt, but that, as they say, is another interview… hopefully!

Calling all rudeboys and rudegirls: Too Much Pressure at thee Parkside tonight

Well, hopefully my sharkskin suit still fits. Tonight at thee Parkside, Too Much Pressure, an all star 2-tone ska tribute band is gonna be playing skankable hits from the ’80s. What constitutes all-star? Well here are a few of the singers:

  • Mike Park – Skankin’ Pickle, Asian Man Records
  • Karina Denike – Dance Hall Crashers
  • Jesse Wagner – the Aggrolites

As well as a backing band made up of the awesome members of Let’s Go Bowling, the Phenomenauts, and Bad Manners. 3rd wave meets 2nd wave! The early 2000s rudie in you is completely stoked, just own it.

Here’s a shot Jesse took of rehearsal:

Latest ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’ gameplay video blows up the Golden Gate Bridge

Holy crap! I guess the Sausalito ferry is gonna be extra packed for a while.

[via kotaku]

‘Waiting for a Train’ the Toshio Hirano documentary now online!

If you know him, you love him. Toshio Hirano has been charming the hell out of Mission audiences with his country yodeling and hilarious stage banter for over a decade.

In 2009, director Oscar Bucher made a short documentary about how this fella from Tokyo fell in love with early country music and followed that passion to the United States. It had limited screenings, one of which I was lucky enough to catch then.

Finally, the film has been posted online for the rest of us, so check it out:


Toshio still performs at Amnesia on 2nd Mondays and the Rite Spot Cafe on the 4th Tuesdays.

LOL Look at this weird old dude eating hipster ice cream

[via Humphry Slowcombe's twitter]

Adam Savage’s secret lair

Adam Savage, a Mythbuster/Mission resident, recently gave a tour of his workshop and boy is it something else. This is your chance to see it before AE’s Hoarders catches wind of this video and sends in their crew:

His prop replica collection is incredible. He’s built every kind of costume, weapon, and helmet from every movie you can think of. What’s next, vehicles? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s working on a Millennium Falcon down there.

Also, here’s one thing that you can tell right away: dude has his workflow on lock. He designed and built custom toolboxes, cases, and shelves. His tool racks are on casters, and designed to make sure every tool is immediately accessible without moving anything else. It’s seriously impressive. I can’t even organize the icons on my desktop.

Adam mentions that there’s a virtual tour on Google Maps, but the entrance is hidden as a manhole cover in the Mission, so I dug up the link for you. Let’s just say it’s probably not the actual location of the workshop, so don’t try to go down there in real life. Look how well that worked out for those kids who died looking for Ninja Turtles in the ’80s (ok maybe that was an urban legend):

Google Maps link (spoiler alert!)

Update: Called it. He is building a Millennium Falcon, along with an R2 unit:

Closed Contact

Looks like Clothes Contact is gonna peace out within 60 days:

$14000 / 2000ft² – Great Ground Floor on Valencia (mission district)

Great Frontage on Valencia and 16th. Nice three story building with great potential. Space will vacate approx 60 days… Possible to double space with full basement. Shown by appointment only.

Guess you gotta sell thrift by the ounce, not the pound, in this economy.

[via Craigslist]

Update: The gone-in-60-days figure may be inaccurate, according to current employee Travis:

Alright, I work there right now, and the truth is, it’s gonna be around at the very least until the end of the year. After that, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But it’s sure as hell not closing in 60 days. Come in, you’ll see.

Godzilla film takes some liberties with BART and Muni logos

Hollywood be all like, “here, lemme redesign that for you” (Godzilla, 2014):

After all, who would want these pieces of shit searing the eyeballs of America:

[via 99percentinvisible]

Vic Wong

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Email: vic (at) missionmission.org

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Biographical Info:

Vic was born in Oakland. He is a software engineer. He plays jazz guitar. Vic owns a sword.