23 July 2009

Recycled Treasure Haul

If you don't know this about me then you don't know me very well but I have a great passion for real recycling.  And I mean that sentence literally.  I use the word passionate because I get a genuine feeling of joy and satisfaction from salvaging materials and transforming them and I use the term real recycling because it's not driving to the supermarket with a boot full of carrier bags or using gallons of water and electricity to pulp old paper into new.  It's actual hands-on work, separating out piles of waste and recognising the potential in wood, fabric, metal, liquids.  Cleaning and stripping things back to their bare form and then re-encorporating them into your daily practice.  It is saving useful items from going into a landfill by using no more energy than what it takes to transport it and clean it.  Sometimes it can simply be combining the left over drabs of several nearly-empty pots of PVA to make one very useful resource.  Or getting the cap off a crusty old tube of paint and cleaning the opening to make it usable again.

Well today I struck scavenger gold!  I bagged a haul that had been considered a worthless nuisance by it's owner but was a prime resource to me and my fellow art studio occupants.  I got a phone call from an associate explaining that major reconstruction work at a local college had meant that 4 large walk-in material cupboards were being cleared out along with several large stacks of 8x4 MDF board and 2x1 pine baton.  So I borrowed my friend's transit van and visited the college.  Within half an hour I had filled the van with sketchbooks, paints, wood, plaster, canvas, tool boxes, silk-screens, glues, charcoal, pallets, portfolio cases, paper, extension cords.  I only took what I knew I would use and left behind lots of other goodies that maybe useful to others.  My concept of recycling would have been flawed if I had been so greedy that some of my haul would end up going to waste.

Several of the items had names scribbled on them, evidence of the spoilt children who's parents had paid out for expensive tool boxes and books only for their precious offspring to leave it all in a cupboard when they graduated.  Proving my point that 95% of students in an art school are just drones.  An elaborate support mechanism for the few who go on to work in the arts.  A largely female population most art students end up marrying into money, their free spirit hippie ethos attitude being just the right kind of sexiness to bag them a rich lawyer boyfriend.  I have been called cynical for making this observation but no-one has yet offered me a more believable take on the evidence.

I do not judge the college for throwing out all this stuff.  It would take a full time member of staff with a wide knowledge of art materials to manage a recycling operation like that and besides, where would they store it while the building work is going on.  The alternative would be some kind of recycling network, a charity collection service but these services are slow to react and often unable to handle large hauls of unspecified junk.  Then there's the legal implications of publicly advertising free junk.  You just know that if you'd let the public in to help themselves to free stuff someone's dimwitted kid would drink a litre of emulsion and staple his face to a door.  I give big thanks to the gentleman who thought to give me a call, he knew me as a man with a reputation for bin-raiding in a safe, sensible and efficient manor.  I was not gonna take legal action if I scratched my arm on a screw, or be stupid enough to crawl around in a skip and swallow a mouth-full of sawdust.  I would come in, load up quietly and leave.

So please don't get angry about waste because when you take into account financial cost, health & safety, labour and storage, there is no alternative to things going into landfill by default.  There is no better system than the extraordinary one I partook in this afternoon and that is the system of friends with phones, working on the hush-hush.

Be safe my friends and if you look in a bin, wear gloves and be careful!

A stack of 8x4 MDF board still sporting evidence of previous exhibitions.

A stack of 8x4 MDF board still sporting evidence of previous exhibitions.

Silk screen, pallets, 2x1 pine baton

Silk screen, pallets, 2x1 pine baton

Second hand tool boxes of charcoal and acrylic paint

Second hand tool boxes of charcoal and acrylic paint