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.