Boise State Students Turn Trash into Art for New Residue Exhibition 

click to enlarge Artist Michael McFalls poses with a piece from the New Residue exhibition at Boise State.

New Residue

Artist Michael McFalls poses with a piece from the New Residue exhibition at Boise State.

With their traveling exhibition New Residue, art professors Michael McFalls and Jon Swindler have taken the idea of

"one man's trash” being “another man's treasure" to a whole new level. For them, nearly everyone’s trash is treasure and, potentially, art.



Since 2014, McFalls and Swindler have traveled to universities across the country to collaborate with students on exhibits in which castoffs from various art departments, studios and even dumpsters are turned into abstract works of art. At Boise State University, the seventh edition of New Residue is on display through Thursday, March 16, in the Liberal Arts Building Visual Arts Center, and features pieces made from wood, plastic, kozo paper, neon, ceramic and more.

"It started from photographs," explained McFalls, a sculptor and associate professor of art at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. "I’d take a photograph, and I’d send it to [Swindler], he’d alter the photograph digitally—so we’re talking about a digital kind of phone tag you could say. He would alter it, then I would alter it, and it would go back and forth."
click image Several of the installation pieces in New Residue are huge: This one, featuring crumpled plastic and paper supported by zip-tied beams, is easily 10 feet high.  - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Several of the installation pieces in New Residue are huge: This one, featuring crumpled plastic and paper supported by zip-tied beams, is easily 10 feet high.
McFalls was in Sweden at the time on a Fulbright Scholarship, while Swindler was in Georgia, where he teaches printmaking and book arts at the University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art. Swindler eventually turned those photographs into hundreds of prints, which became the basis for the New Residue exhibitions.

"So when you look at this," McFalls said, pointing to a giant wall-hanging made from a painted dropcloth over a crazy quilt of colorful, taped-together shapes, "[it’s] the residue of those altered photographs."

click image The bottom layer of this piece is made from prints of the photographs that inspired New Residue, which Boise State art students cut up and reassembled. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The bottom layer of this piece is made from prints of the photographs that inspired New Residue, which Boise State art students cut up and reassembled.

The photographs are just the beginning, though. Not only do McFalls and Swindler bring leftovers of their own work and previous New Residue exhibitions, they also source material from students and professors of whatever school they're visiting. It means, by necessity, the entire exhibition is assembled on-site.

"We built these when we got here, with the students," McFalls said, gesturing to a couple of giant installations made from a jumble of painted wooden beams, plastic sheets and zip ties. "I ordered 150 two-by-twos and one-by-twos, and the first day of class—they kind of looked at me a bit crazy— [I said] 'Just paint them,’ and they’re like, ‘Paint them which way?’ and I’m like, ‘Do what you want, it doesn’t matter. We’re just making marks."

That laissez-faire attitude sums up New Residue in a nutshell. For McFalls, it's all about reminding participating students that art can be fun and playful, as well as serious business—and that it can show up in unlikely places.

click image McFalls plucked this piece from the garbage because he felt "the failure was beautiful and kind of pathetic." - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • McFalls plucked this piece from the garbage because he felt "the failure was beautiful and kind of pathetic."
"I used to make these molds, cast these things. One day I was in the studio, and I realized that all the stuff that spilled out of the mold was much more interesting than the thing that I was making," said McFalls. "That residue was turned into a whole body of work for me."

The materials used in the Boise State iteration of New Residue came from a variety of unlikely sources: one art professor contributed a giant plastic net she had made, a student volunteered a set of old tent poles, and McFalls even went digging through the garbage, coming out with a sculpture that looked like a sad attempt at a two-headed man. McFalls covered the sculpture with black flocking (velvet-like fibers sprayed onto paint with compressed air) and attached a piece of neon from local shop Rocket Neon to its deformed head.

Caroline Earley, an assistant professor of ceramics at Boise State, considered a table displaying some of her rejected ceramics, which students had covered with black, white and red drips of paint.


“They’re all just experiments that have something wrong with them, or [that] didn’t work,” Earley said. “I have this cupboard in the ceramics studio, and I said [to McFalls], ‘Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want this?’ and he just said, ‘Yep. Yep. Yep.’”

Earley liked how McFalls, Swindler and the students transformed her work—so much so, she said she intends to buy it back if the other people who were eyeing it didn't get to it first.


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