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Rejuvenated junk enlivens San Francisco airport

By: Jeremy Carroll

August 21, 2013

It's one piece of art among more than 100 in the terminal dedicated for United Airlines at San Francisco International Airport. But the life-sized Hummer made entirely of polystyrene sticks out.

"It's huge," said Deborah Munk, program manager for Recology's artist-in-residence program. "It's just so unexpected.

"No one expects to see a [PS] Hummer."

Recology, the San Francisco-based waste and recycling hauler for the city, is showcasing some of the best work from its 23-year program of letting local artists use the city's waste as a resource and inspiration for artwork. More than 100 pieces by 45 artists are on display through October, and all of them are made completely out of material being tossed out by residents of the city.

There are dresses made of bottles caps; a whale's tail made of wood, flooring adhesive, rope and PS; an evening gown made from the plastic bags used to deliver the daily newspaper; carnival masks made from found materials; and beautiful photographs of discarded items.

But everyone seems to come back to that Hummer, a complete replica of an H1, the original truck that hit American streets in the late 90s. The truck was a modified version of the military vehicle that was high on off-road ability, but extremely low on fuel mileage.

The PS version was created by artist Andrew Junge in 2005, and includes lumber and steel to support the foam.

"It appeals to a number of different groups," Munk said about the replica. "It appeals to the guys who like Hummers. It appeals to the environmentalists who understand the implications of polystyrene. And it just looks really cool."

Tim O'Brien, director of the San Francisco International Airport Museum, agreed the piece stands out.

"It's stunning. Not just because it's brilliantly conceived, but its execution," he said. "It's just a phenomenal piece."

The massive amount of PS took only a couple of weeks for the artist to gather, he said.

The museum is the only accredited museum inside an airport, and has 25 exhibits throughout the airport that rotate about every six months.

"I have a new favorite every time I come across a new piece," O'Brien said about the Recology exhibit. "When you see each of these artists, they've been inspired in such different ways, by the experience of seeing the waste stream up close and personal and seeing what's being disposed."

In addition to the Hummer, another visually stunning piece is "Last Dive at the Farallones," created by Ethan Estess in 2012. The work features a whale's tail diving into the ocean, Munk said.

"He was a student artist and a marine biologist who is really worried about what's happening to the ocean," she said. "And the piece is really all about the marine wildlife that gets wrapped in plastic. That one is a really powerful piece."

Munk said walking through the terminal it's really fun to watch passengers, especially kids, get excited about the art.

"The artwork stands alone. But when people start reading about it and find out that it's made of recycled materials from the San Francisco dump, it just adds a level of surprise and appreciation," she said.

"I think art can be a subtle but powerful teaching tool, so we hope the work we're doing at Recology is getting people to rethink how they consume, whether or not they recycle or compost."