Art from trash is anything but trashy: GLEAN art project finds beauty in garbage

GLEAN artists for 2017, left to right, Christian Barrios, Tyler Corbett, Caroline Borucki, Danielle Schlunegger-Warner, and Latifa Medjdoub. (

An upcoming art exhibit is as much about making art from trash as it is about thinking about the things we throw away without a thought.

In the Portland area, that's about 1 million tons a year sent to landfills, as a visit to the Metro Transfer station on Northwest 61st Avenue can attest.

“We needed a different way to communicate the issues about waste, so we decided to use artists as ambassadors,” said Amy Wilson, program manager for the GLEAN art project administered by Metro, Recology and Crackedpots. “Not only to make beautiful things from the waste but try to explain to the public that it's a less than ideal system.”

This year five artists out of 80 who applied were commissioned to find objects at the dump in Northwest Portland and make art out of it.

Danielle Schlunegger-Warner, an installation artist, was one of the five chosen.

“With this project I came in thinking I'm going to be this scientist looking at waste as an archaeologist,” she said.

Schlunegger-Warner says while gleaning art supplies from massive mountains of trash was a bit of a downer, she was struck by the stories behind the trash.

“I got really lost in the stories and the humanness of what I was finding in the trash,” she said. “I really kind of got stuck on things like photographs and letters, and I found that there is so much humanness in trash and so much trash created by humanity.”

She also discovered that even the most ordinary object -- a red brick stamped with the word “HIDDEN” -- had a story that was not hidden at all.

That one kind of blew my mind,’ she said. “I thought, just as an object, it's beautiful and interesting and then it already had these layers and layers of history behind it.”

The Hidden Brick company started making hand-made bricks in Vancouver, Washington in the 1830s. Many older Portland buildings were built with the bricks.

The opening reception for the GLEAN art project show will be at 6 p.m. Friday at the Bison Building, 421 N.E. 10th Ave. in Portland.

The show runs through Aug. 26.

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