Dilettante 34: Landfill art

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Let me tell you about my friend Dana Albany, who makes beautiful sculptures out of junk. Every year I see her and her man Flash when we go to San Francisco to help run her dragon through the Financial District during the Chinese New Year’s Parade.

We tear through the streets with this dragon as guests of Recology, the Bay Area’s primo trash and recycling company. Albany made her dragon with junk she reclaimed from the waste stream at Recology’s dump in South City, where they’ve been hosting artists-in-residence since 1990. Twenty years ago this week I wrote about their facilities and sculpture garden.

Recology dragon action shot

Albany won the residency at Recology a few times. As a fixture for the past couple decades in the Burning Man / Cacophony Society / Maker art scene, Dana Albany definitely qualifies as one of the queens of the American underground sculpture realm.

The Bone Tree, probably Dana Albany’s most famous and delightfully creepy work so far. Photo by Oliver Fluck

Albany’s iconic style relies heavily on visual collage, using mosaic tile and glass, or huge chunks of shiny industrial offal, or whatever there’s a lot of hanging around Recology or some other junkfinder’s. Totally self-taught, she has exhibited for the San Francisco Arts Commission, SOMAR Gallery, and in major town squares in America.

Dana’s been hustling since the mid-‘90s, and steadily getting her due. Chances are you’ve seen a picture of her Bone Tree or the guy made of books — or maybe you’ve seen her 15-foot Tara piece out at Burning Man or in downtown San Jose.

Dana Albany’s Tara Mechani. Photographed at Burning Man by Trey Ratcliff – StuckInCustoms.com – Creative Commons

Albany constructed a dozen instantly-recognizable-to-Burners sculptures out in the desert, but has also concentrated on gigs, murals, and opportunities in the default world which give back to the community.

If you’ve been in the kids’ section of the California Academy of Sciences, you’ve seen her aquatic junk landscape and playground in the kids’ area.

She also made the YES project, or Youth Educational Spaceship, out of repurposed and found materials, along with the help of kids from the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of San Francisco.

This November she and her collaborator/husband Flash Hopkins (himself quite the art star) will be teaching an immersive Black Rock City (Burning Man) art making experience at the world-famous Esalen spa on the California coast. Which is so fancy it makes me want to drink something out of stemware just so I can stick my pinkie out.

Before that though, they’ll be finishing their new project with the Girl Scouts of America — who just received a huge donation of 9 million dollars worth of land outside Vegas where they plan to build a retreat camp.

One teen Girl Scout who helped spearhead the project had an idea, since archaeologists found mammoth bones at the site, to learn to weld, and find a way to make a huge (30-foot?) woolly mammoth sculpture out of reclaimed metal to preside over the camp. So the teen found Dana Albany online, asked her to collaborate, and the rest, very soon, will be history.

guy made of books (“Body of Knowledge”) and guy not made of books (Flash Hopkins, i.e. Mr. Dana Albany)

Anyway Recology supports the arts, specifically the junkyard arts (our favorite). Catch us next spring at the Chinese New Year’s parade in the City, running alongside Recology’s restored antique trash trucks and the dancing garbagemen; as usual we’ll be the only ones with a dragon made out of junk.


Click through to read “Garbage for Art’s Sake,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on December 15, 1998.

This is the 34th entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

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[bonus video of Dana Albany and Recology’s dragon’s route through Chinatown, via a go-pro in its mouth, filmed by our friends at the Musical Instrument Library:]

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