Illegally Dumped Junk in Oakland Becomes Art

Dec 02, 2013 at 10am

Oakland has a dumping problem. Abandoned couches, mattresses, appliances, and other large castaway items are left on the sidewalks and near underpasses, where they linger, get tagged, get grosser, and attract more illegal dumpers who add to the pile of detritus. There are areas that are known dumping zones (G Street in East Oakland being the worst of the worst), but you'll see cast-off bulk waste in almost every neighborhood of Oakland.

Dumpers ditch their junk because it's easier and cheaper than paying for the haulaway. There is only one licensed hauler within the city of Oakland – Waste Management of Alameda County – that will take away these large materials, and the service is not cheap. (Although, I wonder how many of the dumpers know, or care, that Oakland allows for one free bulk waste pick-up a year.)

In October, city council members unanimously approved a law that would consider illegal dumping as a public nuisance punishable as a misdemeanor. The law would punish first time dumpers with a $1,000 fine, seize vehicles used for the crime, and provide restorative justice solutions, if applicable. The law is a good first step, but so far, I haven't noticed any less trash on Oakland streets. So I'm glad that some people are taking the matter into their own hands. Several artists have decided to create something meaningful out of the discarded materials.

Laurie Halsey Brown of senseofplace LAB invited four multidisciplinary artists to transform furniture left on the streets of Oakland into artworks. For the past several months, Laurie, Jeff Hantman, Alicia Escott, Brian King, and Githinji Mbire found items on the street – from a found truck tire to a large leather couch left on the street – and gave them a whole new lease on life.

Here are the before and after images of three of the works that were created for this project:

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Jeff Hantman

"For my project I worked with a large, brown leather couch that I found on the street. I was specifically drawn to the leather that was worn from years of use. The first step was to dismantle the couch and inventory the various materials.This left me with piles of leather, hardwood, string and couch springs. While dismantling the couch I discovered loose coins that had fallen out of pockets and hairpins that had made their way into the crevices of the couch."

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Githinji Mbire

Githinji was born in Kenya, but now lives and works in Oakland. See the work he made below while it was in progress in this video made by Laurie Halsey Brown.

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Alicia Escott

"Mountain lions are native to the hills and valleys of Oakland. Though generally shy creatures who keep to themselves, and who will always try to avoid human contact, in recent years as we have encroached on their remaining habitat and hunting grounds, they have occasionally wandered into inhabited lands. In California we have a strange relationship to wildlife, we want it to exist and we pride our state for having it, we like for it to be close… yet we cannot tolerate it being too close.

It is not a coincidence that the chosen location for this on-site work is in the corner of a fence opening. These cats mark their territory, as do we. But there are always corridors, overlap, liminal spaces. This space is a thoroughfare for people in cars, and conversely a home for the homeless. A place that divides one type of neighborhood from another, taggers mark their territory here, and children play in the park behind it.

Coincidentally when we installed the work we found a small jaw bone from some sort of large rodent, possum or raccoon. This is still a wild place."

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Brian King

Brian’s piece uses a found truck tire in relation to a video triptych depicting shipping container cranes and trucks at the Port of Oakland.

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"Converting Oakland's Waste Into Dialogue" will be on display on Friday, December 6, from 6-9 p.m. at this month's Art Murmur. Check them out at Uptown Body & Fender at 401 26th Street, between Broadway and Telegraph.

All photos and video by Laurie Halsey Brown / senseofplace LAB

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