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Making Art out of E-Waste with Robb Godshaw

Robb Godshaw makes artwork that is conceptual and, as he describes, “Uses technical means to move things that can’t be moved, or make visible things that aren’t normally visible.” During an artist residency at SF Recology, which houses San Francisco’s dump, Godshaw scavenged electronic waste, most of which was functional.

AIRED: February 02, 2016 | 0:07:13
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

[ Beep ]

Godshaw: I'm Robb Godshaw, and I'm an artist-in-residence

at Recology in San Francisco,

and this is my studio.

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

[ Beep ]

My primary interest throughout this residency

has been in e-waste -- so that's electronic waste --

electronics, computers, televisions,

things that are too hazardous to go down the regular stream.

This where all the electronic waste goes --

essentially, anything with a printed circuit board.

You know, a lot of these components

are either toxic or valuable,

so they're brought to a facility in San Leandro,

where they're taken apart and separated out.

What I found very surprising

is that most of what I've taken from the e-waste waste stream

has been fully functional.

So, this is a combination of three things

I found at the dump.

This -- This, like, classic galvanized-steel trash can,

a bunch of three-color LED strip,

and these pedals that were from a medical device.

There's a special area that accumulates fluorescent bulbs,

which I, like, understandably assumed

were all burned out and dead.

But when I started plugging them in,

I found out that almost none of them [Chuckles] were --

were burned out.

So, this is a collection of six

of the circline type fluorescent bulbs,

which I just have in this awkward chandelier,

but they have really nice qualities to them,

and I think I'm gonna use them

for, like, a little selfie booth,

because the circline light

really flatters faces in interesting ways.

I'm not gonna lie.

I barely understand this object at all.

But what I found was that when I plugged it in,

it projected a very faint rainbow.

And then, when I took it apart

and removed a few components, the rainbow got a lot brighter.

So, now it's become

this really super-vibrant just rainbow generator.

I found this "walk"/"don't walk" LED panel

that the city didn't want anymore

and this pressure mat

that was once part of a home alarm system,

and some relays and some power supplies.

And what I've combined them into was this system

where as soon as you step on the mat,

it tells you to stop.

[ Chuckles ]

[ Dramatic music plays ]

[ Beep ]

[ Music softens ]

One of the requirements for applying to this residency

is that you first take a tour of the facility.

And when I did that,

one thing I was really struck by

was this immense almost field

of rear-projection televisions.

Man: I want a giant-screen TV.

Girl: RCA's making television better and better.

Godshaw: This is the corner

in which all of the big-screen televisions accumulate.

[ Beep ]

Aw!

So, there's this really -- this mirror here

that reflects the image projected by this lens

against the screen that's normally in place here.

This one's been damaged, so it's missing the screen.

They haven't been making them for like four or five years,

and they haven't been popular

for almost -- you know, more than a decade.

So, every time somebody, you know, buys a new television,

the old television has to go somewhere,

and it often ends up here.

I had this notion in my head that if I removed

all the electronics from the television --

so, if I took out everything that produces light

and just kept everything that directs

and displays the light in the television --

that any object placed with the light projector

would be magnified on the screen.

So, the project I actually proposed

was to turn all these televisions into microscopes.

[ Motor whirring ]

I think I'm gonna take this one.

It's a good age.

The ones with the flat tops are nice,

because then I can put another television on top of it.

And it's a brand I haven't worked with before.

[ Soft music plays ]

[ Beep ]

So, this is one of the television microscopes,

and it's a TV -- a big-screen TV

that I removed all the electronics from

and replaced with this set of lapel pins

that are mounted to this bike derailleur

that will allow me to focus them in different ways.

So, the television essentially just becomes a giant microscope.

With this microscope project,

the biggest decision I had to make wasn't technical.

It was conceptual.

It's like, "What content am I going to magnify?"

Luckily, as with so many things in this residency,

the decision kind of gets made for you

as you're scavenging,

because you're constantly presented with things

you could never imagine that you would find.

And as soon as I found my first lapel pin,

it just seemed perfect.

They're often shiny and metallic,

which means that they reflect light really well,

which results in a brighter image on the screen.

Most importantly is

that they often signify, like, a very serious affiliation

between a person and an organization.

[ Beep ]

Much of my work in the past has -- has used technical means

to, like, move things that can't be moved

or to make visible

things that aren't normally visible.

And in this work, it's about making

the almost invisible significance

of discarded little bits of ephemera

big enough to be considered

so that the, you know, implied personal narrative

has a chance to -- to speak.

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

[ Beep ]

My first memory of a digital camera

was the Sony floppy-disk-based cameras.

I think this one's less than one megapixel.

So, this lens is from the oldest television I took apart.

Yeah. So, if you...

♪♪

So, if you take something that's kind of frosted

and bring it toward the rear of the lens,

you can see the image that, in this case, is outdoors.

♪♪

[ Beep ]

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