Eco-wise artists trash New Children’s Museum


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

What is trash? What impact does it have on our lives? How can we deal with it in more sensible ways? When and how does trash become art? These are some of the questions addressed by a new exhibition at the New Children’s Museum.

Shazam! Twelve artists create imaginative installations from rubbish. Pretty patterns formed by magnetized metallic dust from old TV and computer parts. A crawl-through maze decorated with used clothes. A modern-day midden full of plastic throwaways. A lacy cloud of plastic bags. An illuminated Styrofoam rocket flying over jagged cardboard peaks and climbable walls.

The exhibit, which opened with a community block party the weekend of Oct. 15, will run through Fall 2013.

“We’re not like traditional museums, which keep changing exhibits. Our exhibits run two years. Our visitors LIKE coming back,” said Rachel Teagle, NCM’s executive director and chief curator who has been part of the museum since 2007, a year before it opened.

“We look for artists who understand what it means to take kids seriously,” she said.

“We try to present real issues, and still keep things playful. We want kids to have fun thinking about things. Then we have a really big opportunity to have the information stick.”

With TRASH, she looked for artists who were already interested in the subject, an increasingly popular one in today’s art world, where eco-wise artists are finding other people’s junk and their own a good source of material.

“We have open calls for artists, inviting them to submit ideas,” Teagle said. “Mikey Eastman came to us through our open call, and we’re proud to say this is his first exhibition.”

Eastman, who uses electromagnets made from copper wire in old computer fans and metallic residue from ground-down electronic devices to create delicate dust sculptures, is a San Diegan, as is Jessica McCambley, whose lacy plastic-bag clouds invite contemplation. The majority of the TRASH artists are Californians, but Vik Muniz is from Brazil, home of the world’s largest landfill. His oversized photographs give grandeur to the garbage-pickers who roam through the dump, recycling whatever they can.

One of the main-floor attractions is Kianga Ford’s playspace made of wire mesh and plastic bottles. The artist interviewed kids on both sides of the Mexican border, and found that, while most said recycling was important, they didn’t know why.

“Because you get a really big fine if you don’t,” one said.

“TRASH opens up complicated issues that even adults don’t consider,” said Teagle. “There are no easy answers, but we have to start asking the core questions: Where does our stuff come from? And where does it go? How many of us know that the average American tosses out 4.5 pounds of waste every day?”

Daily workshops show kids how to make their own art out of trash, things like “midden monsters,” glowing space sculptures, or photos of garbage. And parents are welcome to join in the fun.

If you go

What: Fun with TRASH

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and Saturdays and Sundays; Closed
Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where:The New Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Ave., downtown San Diego

Admission: $10; free to members, seniors and infants under age 1; $5

Free Second Sundays: Nov. 13.

Contact: (619) 233-8792