Curatorial Projects > Life Cycle Analysis (2005)

Life Cycle Analysis by Nome Edonna, Ricardo Richey & Andrew Schoultz

February 23 - April 16, 2005
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

The artists in this installation proposed a project that would explore the cycles of consumption, waste, and recycling. In the early collaborative phases, we came into contact with an overwhelming amount of complex and often hopeless information. The question that arose was how do we use this project to shed light, activate, and propose alternative realities? "Life Cycle Analysis" is an exercise used by environmentalists to evaluate the entire cost of producing goods – from the manufacturing processes involved, to the energy consumption in manufacture and use, to the amount and type of waste generated by creating these products. By shedding light on the complex mechanics and hidden components in the life of the stuff we use, this project manifests the practice of a "Life Cycle Analysis" into a new collaborative painting and sculptural installation made from all recycled and reused material. The three artists probe political, social, economic, and cultural dichotomies, and simultaneously picture an apocalyptic present and a more hopeful future. Over the course of the past several months, we have worked with a number of partnering organizations for both research and outreach purposes, including The Ecology Center in Berkeley (one of the nation's few non-profit organizations overseeing a major city's recycling program started in 1969), SCRAP/Scoungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts (a non-profit creative reuse center, store, and workshop space founded in 1976 that provides schools and organizations with badly needed art supplies to stimulate creativity and environmental awareness), and SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc. (formerly known as Sanitary Fill Company, an employee owned and operated agency established in 1921 that oversees all recycling and waste disposal in San Francisco and delivers some of the most innovative recycling programs in the country). Through these partnerships, we have been able to ground the project with concrete and tangible facts and information, and have been able to utilize the many resources that these organizations have to offer the general public. A series of events in conjunction with this exhibition explore the broad issues of consumption, reuse, and recycling through different interactive avenues: film & video screenings, a slide presentation, a youth art workshop, and a bicycle tour.

The modern recycling movement got its start after the first Earth Day in 1970, whereby dozens of non-profit recycling programs sprung up around the country. However, people have been recycling for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In Japan, for example, waste paper was being re-pulped into new paper as far back as 1031 A.D. Paper recycling in the U.S. can be traced to Philadelphia as far back as 1690, where used cotton rags were remanufactured into paper. New York City initiated a curbside recycling program in 1895, with residents separating their refuse into bins for organic materials, paper, ashes, and general trash. While recycling is ultimately good and beneficial to reducing the stream of material being sent to permanent landfills, it has its own complex and oftentimes problematic set of consequences and equations. For example, many plastic bottles and containers deposited into blue bins throughout the country are ultimately shipped to Asia, where they are processed into plastic goods and packaging materials, many of which are then shipped back to the U.S. for consumption. And many of our obsolete electronic components are sent overseas to be broken down and reprocessed - impacting many communities with life-threatening toxic substances and establishing an entirely new type of sweatshop labor. Although many of us view recycling as a simple yet responsible act, it also allows us to consume what we wish while alleviating us of notions of guilt. In fact, recycling has broader, far-reaching impact upon the global community.

The images and statistics that served as an impetus for this project are staggering. The cycle of consumption and waste can leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Recycling is no longer just a solution, it has become part of a larger, interrelated, global problem. So what are we to do about the seemingly endless cycle of waste? Using a model of community as a tool for reform can give us hope when it seems so hopeless. Recognizing our own consumer patterns and altering them is the first step. Joining others that share our concerns and realizing there is a vital network of green resources, both locally and nationwide, is a powerful second step. We can begin by changing our habits and rethinking our role as passive contributors to the global crisis. We need to go beyond Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. We have to Respond as well. We hope that this project can inspire all of us to act upon a number of things we can all do right now that will not only leave a lighter footprint on a personal scale but on a global scale as well.