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SURPLUS: From Throwaway to Reusable Materials

By Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Text and Photos by Leif Sandberg

It’s the middle of the day and you are busy banging away on that new sculpture you’ve been obsessing over. You’re almost done and you suddenly realize that this thing that you have invested so much time into might not make it into the world without, say, an odd piece of PVC pipe. Do you have enough time to run to the hardware store, or even Home Depot? Do you even have five bucks to get that elusive piece of plastic? The critique is tomorrow and the stress is accumulating at a rapid pace. The situation is looking dim.

Suddenly you realize that, in the basement of the Columbus building, the SURPLUS cage might just have what you’re looking for.

The bricolage aspect of the SURPLUS cage is enticing. On any given day, you might find electrical conduit, PVC pipe, digital media soft cases, DV cassette tapes, Turpenoid, acrylic paint, sheets of masonite, and strange pieces of metal from the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation Department. These items most likely started out as newly purchased goods, which were used in a project or department here at SAIC by the students, faculty and staff, and then brought back into potential re-use by the SURPLUS program.

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SURPLUS first began as a class that Laurie Palmer, the current Chair of the Sculpture Department, taught in the Spring of 2006. The class was entitled “Public Practices,” and included an exchange event where students could freely exchange materials they possessed but did not need anymore. The event was such a success that Laurie Palmer decided that SAIC would benefit from a permanent iteration of such a program.

Initially there was a Craigslist-style web-based system, with students posting their materials peer-to-peer, which then morphed into recycling bins that were set up in classrooms. The bins, however, were coming into conflict with the school’s fire hazard codes, which obviously posed a problem for the administration.

“Once we figured out the form it needed, we got support from the institution,” explained Stephanie Brooks, the Faculty Advisor for the program. SURPLUS took the form of the SURPLUS cage, which was started two years ago in it’s current location, in the basement of the Columbus building. The potential for advancing SAIC’s green rating and reputation is enticing for the school, not to mention the advantages of expanding the student’s material vocabulary.

When asked about the issues surrounding the use of recycled materials in student artwork, Laurie Palmer got philosophical: “Reuse [can be thought of] as a kind of transformation of forms in the world. Rather than trying to conceptualize it all first, there is a dialogue with materiality: the presentness of what’s in front of you.”

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There is a two-pronged effect of such a program. On the one hand, being resourceful with freely attainable materials can bring about new potentialities of the artistic process. On the other, the student body can feel secure in that they are helping to contribute to a minimization of the schools potential waste.

Stephanie Brooks and Laurie Palmer both raved about the Fall and Spring SURPLUS event, held in front of the Columbus Drive Building during one of the last days of the semester. With all kinds of materials set up on tables, and SAIC student DJ’s playing, people came and went, taking and leaving things. Items from the SURPLUS cage as well as the students’ homes were freely exchanged.

Brooks added, “I like people’s reactions, like, ‘Can I take something without leaving something?’” The answer is, of course, yes.

This semester’s Spring SURPLUS event will be held on Wednesday, May 11th, in front of the Columbus Drive building.

SURPLUS currently has two cages at SAIC: One in the basement of the Columbus building, next door to the Resale shop, Room B1-30, and one on the third floor of the Sharp building, in the Contemporary Practices wood shop.

Students can find out more about the program, including material donation restrictions and times for pick-up/drop-off, under the Resources tab on the SAIC portal.

SURPLUS is located in the basement of the Columbus building, next door to the Resale shop, Room B1-30. Students can find out more about the program, including material donation restrictions and times for pick-up/drop-off, under the Resources tab on the SAIC portal.

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