In the fall of 2001 Robin Lasser, Associate Professor of Art at SJSU, coordinated a meeting between a group of visual artists from Helwan University in Cairo Egypt and Paul Fresina, Director of the Artist in Residency Program at the SF Sanitary Fill. The artists from Egypt were interested in the possibility of creating an artist in residency program at the recycling center in Cairo and were excited to see what the SF Sanitary Fill had to offer. Robin had just returned from Egypt as part of a Fulbright Fellowship. In Egypt she created temporary land art works while leading a workshop for Egyptian art students. They worked collaboratively on site in the Sahara desert creating site specific installations in response to the pyramids seen in the distance. The experience of working in a community, with students who have the intention of making art which interprets a sense of place, motivated Lasser to extend this outreach to her own students at SJSU.
Lasser has created photographs and site specific installations on the topic of public health and the environment over the past fife-teen years. So for her, the SF Sanitary Fill was a perfect place to explore with her students.

SF Sanitary Fill has an established artist in residency program, the only one in existence at a waste transfer center in the entire country. In the early 1990's artist Jo Hansen suggested that they start a program which would afford artists the opportunity to turn garbage into art. The artist would be given a studio space, a working stipend, and access to all the materials and tools they might need to create art- culminating in an exhibition at the end of their residency. The artists in turn, would be asked to open their studio to school groups and others who tour the facility, continuing the dialogue of the artist's role in such a community.

In the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2002 Lasser brought two groups of students to the SF Sanitary Fill. Many enjoyed the opportunity and the experience filtered into their art making process but only a few extended themselves in terms of a more extensive exploration of the site. Two students, however, did a more extensive exploration and worked on a video piece with Lasser titled: Dining in the Dump. This video is shown in the current exhibition, initial footage shot along with students Dan Herrara and Nora Ragio Nora has continued her commitment to the site and takes part in the exhibition documented in this catalog.

Creating a site-specific project at the SF Sanitary Fill was designed into the curriculum for the fall, 2002 SJSU Graduate Photography Seminar. Lasser felt the experience would provide her students with the opportunity to work collaboratively, helping to create a feeling of community sometimes missing from the traditional art making process of locking oneself up in a studio, and creating art in isolation. Lasser also felt that making images on location at the waste transfer center would offer her students the opportunity to try out new ways of working, thus extending their current visual vocabulary. Finally, SF Sanitary Fill is rich in historical, social, political, environmental, health and aesthetic concerns. Diverse communities of animal life, machines, artists and employees alike co-exist in one location What they have in common is the waste. Each probably musing over the oddities of each -others respective use of space.


In October, SJSU Photography Graduate Students were offered the opportunity to work on site, for one month, six days a week if they wanted to. The only stipulation was that they provide the artist in residency program with a work of art at the end of the month to be used for traveling exhibitions. About mid month, two more stipulations appeared on the table. An E-mail from Paul Fresina asked us to please keep our shoes on and to please stop climbing in the garbage. We tried our best to comply. In turn we were given an exhibition at the end of the month, an opportunity to present the project at the Western Regional Society for Education Conference and most importantly, an opportunity to reside within, and make art about this extraordinary place.

Lasser's installation titled "The Making of a Photograph" consists of a back lit photograph and juxtaposed moving picture. The DVD video compresses a an hour into a six minute portrait of a professor of photography attempting to make a portrait of a place, of her graduate students, and of our unbridled compulsion to consume. But the photographer can never get her subjects to stand still-thus her desire for the perfect image/state is never consummated. Instead there exists a state of magic when the photograph comes to life and transforms into a moving picture and vis a versa.

The floor monitor reveals thousands of rats living in the same mound of plastics that the graduate portrait was taken in. Rats and sea gulls provide insight into the other end of the food chain.