Hundreds of local artists participated in turning garbage into art for The Greater Nevada Garbage Patch at The Potentialist Workshop. The Potentialist Workshop is a space for artists to do anything from performance art to recording music. The project is an installation of upcycled art. The installation started going up mid-August, but artists have continually added to the project since.
Naomi DeVore, who spearheaded the project said, “It started out with me trying to turn all of my garbage into art, which is preposterous. It became a problem real quick.” The garbage quickly accumulated, and it proved difficult to stick to the original plan. DeVore said the experience was eye-opening, and she hadn’t realized how much garbage she actually produced, “It was like, goddamn. I ate that many Oreos?” She wanted to inspire others to try and do the same in order to reduce waste and create a consciousness of what they throw away and how much. DeVore wanted this project to reach everyone in the community.
DeVore got to know a local artist named Reena Spansail through her work at the Potentialist Workshop. Spansail is a huge fan of the workshop and said, “It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, it’s surreal, and it’s for the whole community.” When DeVore explained her project to Spansail, she was excited to get involved. Spansail said, “The idea was marvelous.” DeVore soon discovered that Spansail worked as a teaching assistant at Reno High School for Ms. Gandolfo, an art teacher. Coincidentally, Gandolfo was DeVore’s art teacher in high school and introduced her to using recycled materials for art.
In her class, Gandolfo worked in coordination with the University of Nevada, Reno on a large- scale recycled art project called Summer of Sustainability. For the project, high school students around Washoe County used recycled materials to create art. The art went up on display at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at UNR. The project and the class inspired DeVore to continue using recycled materials throughout her career as an artist.
Initially, DeVore was unsure of how to get more people involved, but she knew that she wanted to get her former art teacher involved. When Gandolfo attended Spansail’s gallery opening at La Terre Verte, a small boutique in downtown Reno, DeVore ran into her former teacher. Gandolfo soon agreed to get her students involved in the project. DeVore said, “That was the opportunity, everything just fell into place.”
Around 200 students, working alone or in pairs, produced 117 tiles of art for the installation. The students attached garbage to square tiles and painted each square one solid color. The tiles were then hung on the walls in the Potentialist gallery. The installation was arranged in a rainbow grid pattern and covered an entire wall of the gallery. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” said DeVore.
For the high schoolers, this project was the first of the semester. Spansail said she wanted to make the first project something fun. She said, “I also really wanted to define art as anything.” Spansail and Gandolfo were excited for the students to get a chance to see what gallery proceedings looked like and to have their work displayed. Spansail said, “The goal of high school is college and career readiness, and I think this hits both those boxes.”
The tiles were inspired by the artist Louise Nevelson, who created monochromatic wall pieces. Spansail said, “We studied her for a little while and then gathered trash from around campus. Using salvaged materials to make art is an environmental statement, it adds meaning.” Spansail said that while at first many students were dubious about picking up trash, they eventually got on board with the project. One student, Napili Johnston, said, “It was a lot of fun looking for trash, and it’s doing the right thing. Making trash into art.”
Many of the students became more involved in the project and spent hours after school helping to install the piece at The Potentialist Workshop. The students came up with the idea of the rainbow grid pattern for the installation. Many of the students say they would like to continue working in the arts and that they feel the experience will serve them well in future projects. One student, Lindsay Stover said,“It gives you experience into what a real life situation would be like if you’re a part of something like that.”
DeVore hopes for the students to continue recycling and to continue working in the arts. “It was cool for the students. Here’s this class assignment that they had to do, but then their work gets put up in a gallery,” said DeVore, “They learned a lot about that environment.”
In addition to environmental benefits to reusing materials, DeVore points out that a lot of art materials are expensive, and it’s economically beneficial for artists to reuse materials. “You take this garbage and actually do something, so it’s beautiful and worth saving.”
DeVore plans on continuing with similar projects. The next is likely a solo project which would take place in January at La Terre Verte.