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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

(Re)Collection: Wasted in Buffalo

I presented on this project at school last Monday (2/1), a compilation of my work in Buffalo as well as the experimental work on turning found items (dumpsterdived in NYC) into functional furniture. My hope was that through talking about the house as well as talking about waste, I could start some inspiring conversations in and around campus...
Read below for a description of the presentation.

As you exit the elevators on the 17th floor, there is a big pile of junk. Yuck! On the wall, there is a sign with all kinds of negative words (waste, dilapidated, ugly, worthless, blight, etc). You are instructed to both take a bird hanging from the ceiling and pick out a piece of junk!

You take a bird representing the ever present seagulls around trash and unravel it to learn a fact about waste in Buffalo. Waste of resources, waste of housing (vacancy), waste of knowledge (drop out rates), etc. You read the label on the trash you just picked up and find out which NYC borough the item was found in! You need this for a later activity, so you keep it with you as you wander through the exhibit...

You continue past the entrance and arrive at a collection of photos. There are three sets of photos: waste/dilapidation in Buffalo (the before photos of the house), volunteers/progress, and into the future. You look more closely and realize that some of the photos with people in them have anecdotes attached, stories about volunteers, workshop attendees, and how they have each contributed to changing this idea of waste.

You enter a room and the presentation part begins. I briefly speak about the project and how it got started, but mostly about our perceptions of waste and how we can seek to change it. Then, the activity! I asked people to turn and introduce themselves and start talking about their piece of junk in front of them. Where did it come from? What was it originally? What could they use it for now? Could you combine it with anyone elses object at the table and make something neat?? Everyone gets into groups, not sure what to expect. A moment of silence...and then a burst of chattering. You can hear snippets from other tables...

"This looks like...a pipe. I suppose you could use it as a weapon?"
"No, it'd totally be an awesome cane!"

"Hmmm...an old piece of a coat rack?"
"Woah...definitely a future chandelier!"
"I was thinking we could combine this cool looking table leg with it and make a rustic/stylish new coat rack!"

You look down at your own object. You chose a piece of neon green Styrofoam that looks like a gigantic lego piece. Piece of styrofoam? Useless. Until wait, maybe you could use it as a stencil in the new bathroom design you are creating...someone else suggests simply reusing it for packaging/keeping another item safe in the mail...
Or, say you picked up an old wooden seat piece...hmmmm. You've always wanted a new cutting board...cut the seat down a bit, and voila! Also looks like a good sign...paint something on it and hang it in your room!

As people shared their ideas with each other they realized they are totally into this! They wanted to take items home with them and actually turn the ideas into reality. The audience reconvened for a minute as I wrap up, connecting the activity to a larger message. What you immediately labeled as waste when you first exited the elevators, now seems potentially valuable...you think about the people who are immediately written off as waste or worthless...perhaps its all in perceptions...

The presentation is over, but there's more to come! In the other room, there is an exhibit featuring many pieces of furniture that I made from trash. There are other activities to engage in too! You find the food table and...there is SO much food! Cinnamon raisin bread from Fancy and Delicious Baking Co, squash soup made from squash saved from the garden in Buffalo (actually, it's combination of farmer's market squash and squash from Kathy/Lar McNally's garden...shhhh), cheese/apples from the farmers market, fresh veggies, and a HUGE carrot cake made by a family friend! There is a canvas in the corner...there's a demonstration going on, about painting trim! It is an example of what I've been teaching at my house.

Anyway, that's pretty much the gist of the presentation. It was a wonderful and inspiring day, and there were so many great conversations that I'll probably never even know about! Until next time...


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