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Life Cycle Analysis

Discarded Treasures

If ever the adage "One man's trash is another man's treasure" were true, it's absolutely exemplified in the latest exhibit at the Intersection for the Arts. "Life Cycle Analysis", on exhibit through April 16, is an installation featuring the works of NoMe Edonna, Ricardo Richey, and Andrew Schoultz, members of the Gestalt Collective, a local group composed of graffiti-based artists. The exhibit includes collaborative sculptural, photographic, and video installations that touch on the debilitating effects of consumerism and waste. The three artists also uncover the hidden components of recovering physical material for use, including vital bits of information about the complex underpinnings of the recycle/reduce/reuse phenomenon, hinging on the dynamics of culture and power that effect the cycle of consumption and waste.

The exhibit isn't merely ornamental -- it's rooted in tangible information and hundreds of obscure factoids about recycling. In the early collaborative process, Edonna, Richey, and Schoultz posed the question of how to activate and propose alternative methods for dealing with waste. They partnered with several organizations, including SCRAP (Scroungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts), an organization that provides schools and other institutions with much needed art supplies to spur creativity and environmental awareness. The title of the exhibit comes from the exercise that environmentalists perform to evaluate the entire cost of producing goods, from manufacturing processes to energy consumption to the amount and type of waste that is generated. The exhibit is clearly instructive in its creative generation of possibilities for dealing with consumption and waste, and it is in this inventive intersection between pedagogy and imaginative proliferation that the three artists truly hit their mark.

The art is split up into two cogent themes: America and the third world. Edonna's massive sculptural installation of a wave of trash suggests the complicity of American consumers. Edonna devotes an entire wall to the hegemonic ideal of capitalism, represented by a golden pyramid in the clouds, a parody of the symbols on our currency. Below the temple is a desolate necropolis full of billboards dotted with tongue-in-cheek proclamations such as "Be cool. Wear our stuff," and "Why think? We'll do it for you." A three-dimensional wave of trash -- rife with styrofoam, cigarette butts, coffee cups, discarded food containers, and a menagerie of items straight from the dumpster -- emerges from a mockup of a television set, denoting the devastating nexus of advertising, popular culture, and social power dynamics.

A little known fact is that many of the plastics San Franciscans deposit into the blue recycling bins scattered throughout the city are shipped to China, where some of the material is recycled but which much of is burnt and disposed. Schoultz examines the black hole theory in environmentalism, which hinges on the unawareness of most people as to what actually becomes of their trash. One of Schoultz's installations is a three-dimensional replica of smokestacks in an unnamed third world country. An intricately hand-painted complex of smokestacks spewing thick miasmic clouds of gas and smoke gives us a dismal picture of our garbage's inauspicious route. Schoultz purveys a world that is as immediate as it is surreal, infusing his subject with haunting authenticity. Finally, from Schoultz's last smokestack, Richey's thee-dimensional cloud of pollution emerges, snaking across the ceiling and back to Edonna's wave of trash to symbolize the cyclical production of waste and pollution and the power dynamics that fatefully connect both the First World and Third World.

Other features of the exhibit include two photo installations on opposite walls. One of the installations features the overwhelming effects of consumption and waste in various parts of the world, including obscure factoids, such as the shipment of 16.5 tons of plastic waste by the United States to other parts of the world in 1993. The other installation poses strange and inventive ideas for putting waste to constructive use -- such as turning junk mail into toilet paper or whittling furniture from cardboard. While such ideas may not seem pragmatic or viable, the issue of putting trash to creative use raises a number of questions about artists' capacity to create social change by being more conscious of the materials they use. This is supplemented by a free companion booklet on recognizing consumer patterns and receiving more information on green resources.

While "Life Cycle Analysis" comes across as heavy-handed polemic at times, it's a brilliant combination of artistic inventiveness and instructive dialogue. Edonna, Schoultz, and Richey create a staggering commentary on our culture of (often unconscious) waste and consumption, and its invisible crippling effects.

Life Cycle Analysis is on exhibit through April 16.