Leaning in the chaos
At the GLEAN 2021 Opening Reception on January 21 at the Maddox Building in Northwest Portland, the artists-in-residence spoke about their experiences gleaned from the Metro Central transfer station. Their task was to uncover discarded objects and materials and turn them into works of art.
The GLEAN program is a partnership between Metro; Recology, the waste management company that operates Metro South; and Cracked Pots, a nonprofit that focuses on art and waste reduction. The art program aims to inspire people to think differently about the things they throw away.
Artist Malia Jensen said it has been very difficult to make art over the past two years due to the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. When she received the GLEAN residency, she said going to the landfill became a working meditation and gave her space to be inspired to deal with trauma.
“It was like leaning into the chaos to imagine that I was going to spend my free time at the dump,” Jensen said.
Artist Jessica (Tyner) Mehta echoed similar thoughts about letting go of control. She talked about the difference between harvesting and gleaning. Mehta said harvesting involves control over the process, but gleaning means gathering and using the remains.
“Most of the time I feel like artists could go into this project having an idea of what they’re going to create, I definitely did,” Mehta said.
But as Mehta traveled to the Metro Central transfer station to find discarded items to turn into art, his plans completely changed. Instead of making art that focused on eating disorders, she turned to art that spoke to the Native American residential school experience.
Artists Colin Kippen and Willie Little have also taken the opportunity to embrace change in their art. Kippen often makes concrete castings of found textures, but was able to switch from concrete to a paper-based casting material.
“I really wanted to remove the cement from my usual practice because it’s the second largest emitter of CO2,” Kippen said.
While Little was confident he could find all the items he needed for his art, he opted to go in a different artistic direction for the show.
“The work I’ve been doing for 20 years is about racing and it’s so heavy,” Little said. “I know I won’t do anything against the landfill race.” Instead, he portrayed the conjuring of childhood toys for his GLEAN plays.
Artist Caryn Aasness chose to do some of her art on the experience at the transfer station. They wanted to show that digging at the landfill was fun and exciting while being aware of the waste. To celebrate the experience, Aasness created commemorative plates by illustrating scenes and patterns on discarded tableware.
GLEAN’s 10th anniversary celebration
This month, GLEAN also hosted a retrospective celebrating over 10 years of the program. The exhibition featured new works by the current artists in residence as well as works from each previous year.
Art lovers explored the exhibit when it opened at Oregon Contemporary on February 5. Ben Dye’s “Sculptured Sound Drum” from 2011 was a popular draw. A note next to the piece invited people to softly play a drum that had been made from propane tank parts.
Another striking piece was Lynn Yarne’s “Oregon Region Underrepresented History Desk” from last year’s GLEAN exhibit. The repurposed school desk was covered in graphite portraits of people of color and other underrepresented people with ties to the region who were activists, leaders and changemakers.
In the play, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Native American tribe shares a space near Kent Ford, co-founder of the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party. An image of Teressa Raiford, who heads the organization Don’t Shoot Portland, sits across from Peggy Nagae, the lead attorney challenging the constitutionality of curfews imposed on Japanese Americans during World War II.