EnviroHouse is home to more than just garbage

By Paul Schrag on July 2, 2009

Trash art has gone eco. We’re not talking the kind of trash art that emerged out of Baltimore in the late ‘80s, or the self-indulgent wallowing you’ll find in emo-goth basement dives. This is trash on a mission. Next time you’re headed to the Tacoma landfill, take a side journey over to EnviroHouse, which is a work of art in and of itself.

Sponsored and produced by the City of Tacoma, EnviroHouse is a model home showcasing green building and natural landscape ideas, materials and techniques. A tour through EnviroHouse is a tour through 21st century building. A showcase of local companies that have jumped on the soon-to-be $10 billion green building market, EnviroHouse offers visitors a chance to see green building and sustainable living products in action, featuring more than 150 green interior, exterior and landscape concepts that can be put to use by anyone looking to build a home.

In addition to more than 150 green building tidbits, EnviroHouse features an ongoing, rotating art exhibit, installed by local artists who use existing or so-called found materials in their work. All works showcased at EnviroHouse feature artwork made from more than 95 percent salvaged materials. Currently on display are pieces from UPS graduate Lucy Carpenter and sculptor Loran Scruggs. 

Carpenter’s installation, Plastics in Our Food Chain: When We Become Our Waste, explores the cozy physical relationship we have with our waste. You know all those plastic bags you take home from the grocery store? Carpenter has collected hundreds of them and woven them into human organs. Chicken wire and Safeway bags have been fashioned into a three-foot-tall human heart in an attempt to illustrate how the chain of human consumption strikes closer to home than we may realize — right at the heart of our existence, if you’ll excuse the pun. Carpenter points out that tons of waste plastics are dumped in oceans each year, and that those plastics, and the chemicals in them, eventually end up right back in our bodies. Chemicals already present in the ocean, such as DDT, bond to the plastics, she explains in her description of the work. Through continual exposure to the sun, the plastics photo-degrade into smaller pieces of plastic that are mistaken for plankton by various sea creatures, which larger pieces are mistaken for jellyfish and eaten by birds. The plastics enter the food chains — swallowed up by fish and other wildlife — and often end up right back on our dinner tables in one form or another.

Carpenter characterizes her work as a statement about the hidden, negative effects of human consumption.

Scruggs work isn’t so morbid, seeking rather to use color and a spirit of play to transform waste products into things of beauty, largely inspired by tin can work created in Mexico and Africa. In the case of her EnviroHouse installation, Scruggs has taken tin cans, recycled wood and rivets and cut them into dazzling portraits and sculpture. Patron Saint of the Blind and the Bringer of Summer Light Back is an intricate portrait of the artist, set in a magical landscape.

“We have so much stuff in the U.S.,” she says in a description of her work. “What is a raw material? These objects are about slowing down our ‘Throw it out and buy another’ culture.”

[EnviroHouse, artists Lucy Carpenter and Loran Scruggs transformed discarded items into works of art, through mid-September, Wednesday.-Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 5p.m., free, Tacoma Landfill, 3510 S. Mullen St., Tacoma, 253.573.2426]