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.

Come see an old college pal bare her soul at Adobe tonight with Sex & the Suburbs!

I’m not sure exactly what’s gonna happen, but I know it’s gonna be fun:

Here I come Bay Area! I am so pleased to offer the Bay Area debut of Sex & the Suburbs, the show that is the expression of everything creative I do right now. It is based on poems I wrote between the ages of 19 and 22, almost entirely in Berkeley, CA.

The show will feature opening set by Deirdre Stewart, sharing story and song learned and inspired by her recent residency in southern Mexico.

I am honored and humbled and proud and terrified and excited to invite you to come and experience and create this thing with me.

Check out all the details here!

Small but charming studio in the Mission, $2500 a month

[via Tessa]

“Stay weird, San Carlos Street”

So says our pal Emily, on her ‘gram of this art piece and/or trash heap on San Carlos this afternoon.

Unsanctioned graffiti (2008) vs. sanctioned mural (2015)

Our pal Many Machines takes a moment:

Top: Potrero hillside, 2008.  Bottom: same hillside, 2015.

I was especially fond of the earlier version, as it featured the work of several artists who had an outsize significance in my mind in the first few years after I moved to San Francisco.

Few things make me feel quite so bad about how SF has changed as this hideous current incarnation. [link]

An outsize number of this blog’s early posts were about Girafa. Let’s take a look:

Calling all mallrats: Celebrate the inventor of the shopping mall at Gruen Day

Are you an architecture nerd, scuzzy ex-mall rat, or a person who loves cool and interesting things? Then you’ll love the first annual Gruen Day, taking place tomorrow, July 18, at the Bayfair Center in the Eastern Bay!

Back in May, 99% Invisible‘s Avery Trufelman wrote and produced an excellent episode on Victor Gruen, inventor of the shopping mall. Avery then joined forces with Tim Hwang (founder of the Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory) and SPUR to produce Gruen Day: a celebration of our favorite suburban merchandising complexes and its creator.

Festivities include talks, tours, nerding out, and hanging out in the food court at Bayfair Center (which, FYI, opened in 1957 as one of the first Gruen-designed shopping centers in the country). There may or may not be Minions present.

Gruen Day tickets are still available here! Plus, every ticket scores you a limited-edition poster designed by Justin Carder and two shiny limited-edition pins designed by yours truly:

(Fun fact: One of these pins may or may not have been inspired by my misreading of “Gruen Day” in an email subject line…)

RSVP and invite your friends here!

And grab yourself a ticket here before they sell out!

Look at this great drawing of a crime being committed in the Mission

[via Mission Local]

A real live Toynbee Tile right here in SF!

Local hero the Fog Bender spotted it this afternoon near Church and Market and “nearly shit [his] damned pants.”

If you’re not familiar, the Wikipedia entry on the Toynbee Tiles phenomenon is helpful. Here’s some of it:

The Toynbee tiles (also called Toynbee plaques) are messages of unknown origin found embedded in asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American cities. Since the 1980s, several hundred tiles have been discovered. They are generally about the size of an American license plate (roughly 30 cm by 15 cm), but sometimes considerably larger. They contain some variation on the following inscription:

IN MOViE `2001

Some of the more elaborate tiles also feature cryptic political statements or exhort readers to create and install similar tiles of their own. The material used for making the tiles was initially unknown, but evidence has emerged that they may be primarily made of layers of linoleum and asphalt crack-filling compound.

[via The Fog Bender on Instagram]

Drama Talk & Drinks Preview: Moments From The Bubble, Or: How The [Google] Bus Stops Here.

Normally DT&D tries to take the guess work out of going to theatre in the Bay Area by providing brutally honest reviews of the shows we see. But we also don’t want you to miss out on what might be a very cool show, just because we haven’t had the chance to review it yet!

With only a two day run of Moments From The Bubble, Or: How The [Google] Bus Stops Here, a playwright-driven community action project created in collaboration with Z Space and the 1 Minute Play Festival, there’s no way we’d be able to review show before the run is over. Given what is currently happening in San Francisco (and even more rapidly the Mission), we thought you might want to see it anyway without our official endorsement.  To help inform your decision here are more details from the event description:

The drastic changes happening to the neighborhoods and communities in the Bay Area is quite staggering. I don’t think the national zeitgeist quite understands what’s happening here. San Francisco is becoming the most expensive city in the world, and it’s at the expense of everyone and everything that makes is special”, says 1MPF Producing Artistic Director, Dominic D’Andrea. Stressing that the work is designed a social “barometer” project to unearth connections in the zeitgeist via themes, ideas, and trends, D’Andrea says, “When we did our annual festival in partnership with playwrights foundation over the past two years, the topic of gentrification was so charged, so present, so immense, that we decided to come back to make an entire other project dedicated to digging into these topics, and what it means for the community. This is our artistic response to what’s happening. It’s part play festival, and part community action.

If that sounds as interesting to you as it did to us, you can check out Moments From The Bubble, Or: How The [Google] Bus Stops Here, this Saturday June 27th at 8PM and Sunday June 28th at 3PM and 7:30PM at Z Below (470 Florida Ave).  Tickets are $20 and available for purchase at http://zspace.org/new-work

We’re going Saturday night, so if you see us, say “hi!” Or if that’s too weird, just let us know what you thought of the show in the comments. Hope to see you at the theatre!