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Straw Into Gold



Born in 1917, Marcel Duchamp turned a manufactured urinal on its side, signed it R. Mutt, called it Fountain and entered it in an avant-garde art show. Predictably, there was a great hue and cry from fellow avant-gardists as well as traditionalists, and this clamor was exactly what Duchamp was after. It is clear that he had every intention of rattling people’s concept of the parameters of art and how it was defined. He wrote of his piece, “He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared, under the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.”

“A new thought.” For a urinal! Whether you like it or not, even if you’re somewhat repulsed by the idea, there is no denying that Duchamp succeeded in his goal. No one ever looked at junk the same way again. And what the artist probably did not foresee was the extent to which discarded items would become a part of our lives in the years following his actions. Less then 100 years from the time he called a piece of junk “art” we are now practically drowning in the waste that we create, and artists are mining the garbage heaps for raw materials.

“The reality of waste is that there is no such thing as waste,” says Linda Wise. Linda is an artist and also serves as a Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist at City Garbage in Eureka. “Most items placed in the trash can be transformed into building materials, playground mats, new containers, compost, energy — and art!” In fact, the connection between art and garbage is now so prevalent that there’s an artist-in-residence program at San Francisco Recycling, the city’s waste collection company.

Linda’s relationship with City Garbage is not as formal as that, but the idea is the same. In the normal course of her work she sees a lot of garbage and she’s free to pick out whatever inspires her. The shop on site, where repairs to trucks and containers are made, is available to her, and it is there that she designs and creates her art.

“Anybody who has an ounce of creativity who works here is going to start making things eventually,” says Linda. So much goes into our trash heaps, and so much of it is useful in one way or another. Much of it shouldn’t even be there in the first place — in our society we’re far too quick to throw things away and go get a new one. But for her art, Linda looks for the stuff that’s unusable in its original capacity and gives it new life.

The concept of reusing and recycling is noble in and of itself, but what about the art? Linda’s pieces are striking for their size and presence, and captivating in their familiarity. As she says in her artist’s statement, “You may find something you threw away incorporated into one of these sculptures.” And indeed, old friends from your garage call out to you. Socket wrenches, broken scissors, hammers, picks and pliers are all there.

Her current show at the Garden Gate is primarily animal heads — deer, cows and horses, all inspired by pieces of junk she’s unearthed. “I let the objects I find give me direction as to what forms my sculptures will take,” she explains. Four-pronged rakes are perfect for the long fringy lashes of a bull; a pick makes its horns. Bent wrenches are antlers. Rusting bicycle chains make the mane of a horse. You’ll see chipped blades, the stripped boxes of wrenches and trademarks when you look closely. Step back and the animals come to life. It’s a good reminder. After all, living things are made up of the same elements that constitute our junk. There are also some functional art pieces in her show — the Wrench Bench is my favorite, and there’s an interesting gate crafted from old saw blades.

Linda’s work will be up at the Garden Gate in Arcata for a few more days, and you’ll see her work in the upcoming Junque Art Show at the Morris Graves Museum (from Arts Alive! Oct. 6, through Nov. 25). She’ll also be creating an altar in the Graves Rotunda for Dia de los Muertes (on display from Oct. 6-Nov. 4). She notes, “People are encouraged and welcome to place pictures or objects on the alter to remember a lost loved one. Every year the end product of the project is colorful, magnificent and quite moving. It gets me choked up every time, especially when children put offerings out.”

Other events of note this weekend : Down in Southern Humboldt on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 6 and 7, fiber enthusiasts gather for the 17th Annual Natural Fiber Fair at the Mateel Community Center in Redway. This art festival features workshops, demonstrations and exhibits of spinning, knitting, weaving and dyeing, plus vendors selling fleeces, fibers, yarns and tools. “Come home with enough supplies, knowledge, and inspiration to last until next year!” say Fair producers. That’s where I’m going to be.

If you’re interest is more woodish than fiberish, you can check out one of Sandy Dardenelle’s free seminars on “The Art of Intarsia” at Almquist Lumber Company (5301 Boyd Rd., Arcata) Saturday, Oct. 6, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sandy is the wood inlay artist who was exhibiting at Almquist’s gallery when I went to check it out a few weeks ago. Little did she know at the time that she’d soon be teaching the craft. For more information contact Almquist Lumber at 825-8880.


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