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Ryan Reynolds re-imagines waste through art

Friday, Jun. 1, 2012

Ryan Reynolds, is an assistant professor with SCU's Art and Art History Department. He teaches Drawing and Painting is a promoter of sustainability and the arts.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Reynolds

Ryan received a grant for “Reduce Reuse Re-imagine” to “engag[e] a wide audience through emphasizing the role of arts in building sustainable communities.” The proposal included a tour of the Recology Center in San Francisco, guest lectures from various and diverse artists, a screening of the film "WASTE LAND", and it will culminate in an on-campus art exhibition in 2013.

Reduce Reuse Re-imagine included a trip to the Recology Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center in San Francisco. The center is unique in that it hosts an Artists in Residency program where Bay Area artists are provided with discarded materials, a stipend, and a large studio space, supporting local artists who work with recycled materials.

Years ago, Ryan says he stumbled onto Recology, which helped to clarify his questions about what happened to the things that he would bag up and throw away. These questions developed after he spent time cleaning up the areas he painted along the urban industrial shore in the East Bay. “I saw the concentration of pollution and the impact on the estuaries. After years of standing ankle deep in plastics and random storm-drain debris I started cleaning up the areas where I painted as part of my place-based painting practice,” Reynolds says. As someone who was interested in learning where his bags filled with discarded objects went, Ryan was impressed by Recology’s mission of diverting waste from landfills while turning that waste into art.

Last fall, faculty and students joined Ryan for a tour of the Recology Center. Touring both the artist residency program and waste transfer station, Ryan says many of them walked away feeling forever changed. Seeing one artist’s courtyard filled with random objects, Ryan recalls seeing the look of “excitement and fascination on students’ faces as they imagined the creative possibilities.” During their six-month residency, artists pick and choose from daily drop-offs at Recology consisting of “old contents of attics, tear-downs, and closets, offering a never ending supply of anything and everything from mountains of styrofoam, doll parts, and electronics” to prepare for a final art exhibition, which are open to the public.

After visiting with the artists working on their projects, the group went on to tour the waste transfer station at Recology. He said, “The sounds of bulldozers and seagulls were so deafening, our guide just stood there in silence as we watched the pile of trash scrape and tumble in and out of dripping trucks. Size and proportion lost all meaning. It was one huge pile of the most unwanted excess stuff. But the seagulls saw promise in the pile. They swooped down to tear at the plastic bags, looking for lunch.”

Aside from its relationship with the Recology Center, Ryan’s Reuse Reduce Re-imagine grant included the screening of "WASTE LAND" in January during the lead-up to the Eco-Fashion and Art Show hosted by the Office of Sustainability. "WASTE LAND" is a film documenting the transformation of the lives of “Catadores”, pickers of recyclable materials, at the largest landfill in Brazil as artist Vik Muniz leads them in the construction of large-scale self-portraits made of recycled materials. Ryan encourages students, staff, and faculty to watch "WASTE LAND" if they haven’t already since it “emphasizes the largely unseen human impact of mass consumption and the transformative impact of art making.”

In addition to this, Ryan recommends a visit to the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park, in connection with the Bay View Hunter’s Point Literacy for Environmental Justice, an off-the-grid youth center and community open space.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Reynolds

Some of the other projects Ryan is working on are an outdoor painting and ecology project, offering students a chance to paint on-site and take part in a small-scale environmental cleanup and restoration project in the South Bay watershed, as well as a new grant for a project called Culvert: Safe Passage. The grant would support research along California highways in the Bay Area, investigating the impact of habitat fragmentation and the impact of transportation and urban development on ecosystems. Animals using these culverts, which are structural implements that allow water to pass underneath trails, railways, and other roads for protection and travel, would be captured with infrared motion sensor cameras. These images would then be translated into a drawing installation.

In the future, Ryan is looking forward to continuing his existing projects, generating new opportunities for engaging student interest and involvement in art and the environment. Ryan is working with the de Saisset Museum and Recology artists for the Reduce Reuse Re-imagine art exhibition slated for Fall 2013. He is also working to bring more student-made art into SCU’s community and educational garden, The Forge.

If students, staff, or faculty are interested in getting involved with any of Ryan’s projects, or have questions, comments, or ideas, please email him at

By Michelle Tang, '13 Sustainability Intern -- Student Initiatives

Tags: Arts, Community Engagement, Education and Research, Environmental Justice, Profiles, Student Life, Waste



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