Not many sculptures are adorned with strands of human hair and old stickers. Then again, most sculptures are not made out of lint. But at the “Use Less” art exhibit in the Edward Cella Art + Architecture gallery, located in downtown Santa Barbara, each sculpture is constructed completely out of readily available, ordinary and recycled materials. While this concept itself has often been recycled, the artists still managed to deliver a unique exhibit. Between a lint rain cloud and threads of lint raindrops, a tower of DLG cafeteria trays with a square cut out on the side, and a collection of glass bottles filled with ink jet prints and water, the UCSB artists successfully breathed new life into an old idea.
The exhibit, which ran from Feb. 23-25, featured 15 sculptures from artists in Professor Kim Yasuda’s upper division sculpture class, a course offered by the UCSB dept. of art. Professor Yasuda’s idea stemmed from her frustration with the frequent disposals of her student’s sculptures. In a consumer culture that harbors an “excess of material,” Yasuda wanted to give her students an assignment that would literally relieve the burden on overflowing trashcans and landfills. Their task was to create sculptures using only recycled, unremarkable and inexpensive items. What came across, Yasuda explained, were the artists’ seemingly magical “capacity to transform” and their ability to give value to the devalued.
Several of the sculptures dealt with dichotomy of the material world and the natural world. In “Inorganic,” artist Mallory Emrich used cotton, silicone and pen caps to create, as gallery owner Edward Cella described, a “mineral organic plant-form.” The pen caps stuck out on the surface of a sphere shape, causing her synthetic structure to indeed resemble some sort of organism.
To create his “Mitosis” sculpture, artist Mike Rubin looped together rubber bands and hung them in long vertical lines from the ceiling. He hooked an old windshield wiper motor at the base and powered it with a motorcycle battery from a junkyard. The motor moved the lines of rubber bands back and forth to give the structure a natural and “tentacle-like” vibe. From afar, it looked like a long flowing curtain.
The exhibit also featured pieces that were deeply personal. In “Grandpa’s Hat,” artist Lacey Piper threaded pink beads inside her late grandfather’s worn-out hunting hat as a memento of their relationship. A needle and thread rested on the hat flap, purposely giving the piece an unfinished quality. Piper explained that she wanted an incomplete thread job to symbolize her own identity, as she was still “growing into” her grandfather’s identity.
In a more light-hearted piece, Candis Wallin-Caplener transformed innocent stuffed animals into freakish creatures. She attached the animals together with rubber bands to create misshapen animal hybrid sculptures. In one hybrid, a monkey’s face was almost completely covered by the rubber bands, with the exception of one large, black eye peaking out. Each of his arms reached around his head to create a frightening yet amusing ode to beaten-up playthings from childhood.
At first glance, it was difficult to tell that recycled materials were used. Hence, the sculptures had multiple layers: the initial aesthetic appeal, the personal ideas behind the pieces and the methods in which they were physically constructed. The “Use Less” exhibit represented more than the old “let’s turn trash into artwork” idea – it informed about the divide between the natural world and consumerist material, revealing the artists’ own personal visions and abilities. As Jennifer Miller identified which pieces of lint belonged to whom in her “April Showers,” she demonstrated that mementos of the past tend to emerge from the most useless objects. It is the emotional and intellectual value of these objects that led to a unique exhibit.