Phoenix artist Ann Morton, recipient of a 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award, has been spending a lot of time at the Phoenix dump lately, along with fellow artist Christine Lee.
They’re artists-in-residence at the City of Phoenix 27th Avenue Waste Treatment Facility located at 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road, where Morton is spearheading something called the Re-Thanks Project. It’s designed to raise awareness about recycling and engage community members in recognizing city employees who work to separate recyclable items from trash.
As part of the project, she has put out the call for flowers made from recyclable materials, which will be woven into a work of public art. So far, Morton has secured about 3,000 of the 3,500 flowers needed to create the piece, which will comprise a 17-foot by 15-foot cascading curtain being installed in the Arizona Science Center foyer in February 2017.
Anyone can make the flowers using their own recyclables, and submit them for the project through December 15.
Most people use some combination of three types of recyclable materials, including plastics, metal, and cardboard or paper. Those who don’t feel particularly crafty on their own can read instructions or watch the flower-making tutorial on the Re-Thanks Project website. Several people have participated in artist-led flower-making workshops.
“We want to involve the community in learning more about recycling and the hidden human hands on everyone’s trash,” Morton says. “Nothing we throw away ever truly goes away.” The homemade flowers are a way to show collective gratitude towards the workers who tackle citizens’ trash. Once the installation is taken down, some of the individual flowers will be given City employees working at the dump. “We want to express thanks to the people who keep our lives in order every day.”
Morton is primarily a fiber artist, but says the project is a good fit for her art practice.
“A lot of my work has used discarded materials, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Morton says of applying for the artist-in-residence program at the dump. She’s worked on-site at the dump, both collecting discarded objects and joining workers along the giant conveyor belt where they’re tasked with sorting recyclable items mixed in with trash.
Morton meticulously records her creative process, posting both photos and video on her website. She’s also gathering items from the dump for use in making additional artworks – including a series of assemblage works she’s calling Warning Signals. Modeled after nautical signal flags, they’ll speak to the state of American culture as revealed through what gets thrown away. Morton plans to pair these pieces with photographs of the found objects used to create them.
For Morton, the human element is especially important.
“People need to think clearly about how they consume materials in the first place, and how to dispose of them responsibly,” Morton says. “When we sort discarded objects efficiently, we assist the City in diverting more trash from the landfill.”
But she also sees the bigger picture.
“From the beginning I’ve worked a lot with people who experience homelessness and the idea of being discarded,” Morton says. Through Morton’s ongoing Street Gems project launched in 2012, people experiencing chronic homelessness have been making earrings, necklaces, and decorative flowers from discarded plastics, which are then sold to the public.
“There’s a socially engaged component to my fiber art, so most of my work engages the public in some way,” Morton says.
To learn how you can participate in the Re-Thanks Project, visit the project website.
Correction: Christine Lee is an artist-in-residence at the dump, but she is not participating in Morton's project.