For artists, inspiration comes in countless ways.
Music, meditation and movies serve as traditional forms. And it turns out trash can also inspire artists to create remarkable art.
For seven years, the GLEAN program has given Oregon artists the chance to convey messages about recycling, reusability and consumption habits by showcasing the art they make from the stuff other people no longer want. GLEAN is an annual art residency run through a collaboration between Metro, environmental and arts nonprofit Crackedpots, and garbage and recycling business Recology.
This year, more than 80 artists applied to the program. A jury of arts and environmental professionals selected the finalists in February. Christian Barrios, Caroline Borucki, Tyler Corbett, Latifa Medjdoub and Danielle Schlunegger were given five months to visit the Metro Central transfer station in Northwest Portland and gather whatever materials they’d like. Their resulting work will be on display at the opening of this year’s exhibition on Aug. 4.
Finding the right artifact to tell a story
A few of the artists have already begun working on their pieces, with some still looking for the perfect inspiration. “I just really like the idea of recycling,” said Christian Barrios. “It was a totally different idea before, of going to the dump. But now, it’s different because you can literally find anything you want.”
Barrios, a muralist with a background in ceramic painting, says he’s excited to see how this program will help redefine what people see as art, since the materials he’s working with have already been deemed trash.
“The most interesting thing about this project is seeing how we define what art really is,” Barrios said. “I want to bring awareness and say ‘this is an old window, this is from this city and this is where it came from.’”
The GLEAN program began in 2010, when the three organizations started a conversation through artwork about how to encourage the public to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.
“I’ve found amazing people, amazing subjects and a really incredible situation – it’s pretty powerful and graphic on many levels,” said Latifa Medjdoub. “From the vision to the ambiance, I was really surprised about the quality of work and education.”
Medjdoub became familiar with the GLEAN program when she lived in San Francisco a few years ago. Recology, which also operates in San Francisco, began the Artist in Residence program there that later helped shape the creation of GLEAN.
Medjdoub works creating workshops and social art projects that focus on engaging audiences. She says that as an artist, she wants to convey a message about the mass amount of objects people have chosen to get rid of.
However, Medjdoub isn’t the only artist who’s been fazed by physically visiting the transfer station and choosing items for her pieces.
“It’s somewhere between inspiring and a little depressing to see what gets thrown away,” said Danielle Schlunegger.
Most recently, Schlunegger found a brick at the transfer station that caught her attention because of its unique detail.
“I found this brick with the word ‘hidden’ on it and that was so intriguing that it really inspired me to start looking at objects as artifacts,” Schlunegger said. “How can I really piece out pieces of Portland history from objects coming into the transfer station?”
After a bit of research, Schlunegger found that the brick was produced by the Hidden Brick Company, a Vancouver-based brick company that operated until 1992. Several noteworthy buildings, including the St. James Church and Providence Academy, were constructed using Hidden Brick Company supplies.
On any given day, the transfer station could be filled with many of the same, recurring objects such as storage bins, picture frames, speakers – and bricks. For artist Tyler Corbett, the most common and most interesting object he’s come across is the artificial flower.
“I feel like there’s something confrontational about them because people don’t like fake flowers,” said artist Tyler Corbett. “But what I like about them is that in every other way, they’re kind of awesome.”
Corbett has been collecting a range of fake flowers and plans on using them for at least one of his pieces.
“They’re easy to work with and they’re easy to clean,” Corbett said. “I can make something out of these fake flowers that everybody hates – but they’re beautiful, and that’s the idea.”
Expanding the program's reach
This year, art students from around greater Portland were encouraged to apply. Caroline Borucki is participating while still in school.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Borucki said. “I don’t have a summer class and it’s really motivating to be able to have a project that’s going to be just as intensive as me going to classes.”
Borucki is close to completing her master’s degree in fine arts at the Pacific Northwest College of Arts. Her passion for zero waste and environmental awareness drew her to the program.
“This was a different method of looking for materials and it’s definitely more scavenging, but I really do love that aspect of picking materials out,” said Borucki.
The program has not only expanded, but the styles, variety and messages have also evolved over the past seven years. GLEAN founder and program manager Amy Wilson said that the program remains successful because people continue to be drawn to the artwork.
“If you come at them from the position of art, then they’re intrigued. They love the art,” Wilson said. “It’s inspiring, it’s positive and it’s uplifting.”
While Wilson says she’s excited about the future of the GLEAN program in Portland, she says she hopes that the program can expand just enough to get its own workspace for artists.
“This is about education,” Wilson said. “This is about getting the public to take a different look at waste.”