Trash Sculptures

I like to work BIG. The problem with BIG, is that traditionally it’s both (a) heavy and (b) expensive. Things that come in large quantities are things like stone, wood, metal, plaster and so on. Even architectural foam is, though light, extremely expensive. So what’s a gal to do, who wants to build gigantic stuff with not a lot of money? 

The answer is, plastic and cardboard trash. There is an unending supply of it, and now that everyone buys everything online there’s been an explosion of plastic packing materials – everything from bubble mailers to those “bags of air” that pad out the huge cardboard box they used to ship that one automotive fuse to you. 

Working with Dreamscapes and their constraint of “85% reused/recycled” on all my projects really opened up my concept of what might be used as sculptural material. The central issue with sculpture is achieving volume. Once you break from traditional thinking, practically anything light and voluminous and non-biodegradable might turn out to be useful. When I start a project now, I look at all the crap I have already lying around, and dream up how to engineer it into what I want to create. I’ve also salvaged post-event debris from the Salt Palace conference center, and put out a call to my neighbors to save certain types of trash for me, like cardboard from cereal boxes and the aforementioned bubble mailers. 

The next problem with working BIG, is where do you exhibit your work? What I make is “outsider art” and it’s not really gallery-friendly. It’s participatory, I WANT people to add to it, and it needs to be accessible basically 24/7. I loved working with Dreamscapes, but I’ve been needing to do something more independent and self-directed while I take care of other projects. Finally I decided, to hell with it, why don’t I just make my front yard look like Alice In Wonderland? It’s super accessible, and my amazing neighbors are all cheering me on. 

And so to that end, and to keep myself sane during COVID, I started building huge fantasy mushrooms out of plastic and cardboard trash. Here are the results. One of them is a participatory piece, and passersby in the neighborhood can write their answers to “what would you do if you were bigger? what would you do if you were smaller?” on a tag and hang it off the mushroom. I’m presently collecting bubble mailers to create the Garden Of Live Flowers, and working out the engineering on a future Caterpillar that will wind around the maple tree. 

Everything I create usually involves inventing the process from scratch, though I am learning some tricks as I go along. Everything is a weather test, and I don’t expect anything to last forever. I’m ecstatic when a sculpture makes it through the winter under snow load, and happier still when it survives the summer’s 100F heat. I’ve had to shore up, patch up, repaint sculptures, and I love it. It’s so fun, and because it’s all made of trash anyway it’s so stress-free. Before I rescued these materials, they were on their way to the dump, so it’s all basically gravy.