In 2015,
I was an artist in residence at Recology SF, a waste-processing facility and transfer station in San Francisco.

Artists were given several months of access to Recology’s public disposal area. Here, in the area colloquially referred to by artists as “the pile,” paying customers would come to rid themselves of clutter from homes and businesses: old electronics and appliances, furniture, dishes, photo albums, CDs. Sometimes, in the passenger seat of a U-Haul disgorging itself of hundreds of toys, one might spy the child who had outgrown them – smiling impishly, almost knowingly.

The project I conducted there, called The Bureau of Suspended Objects, involved photographically cataloguing more than 200 discarded objects and researching their manufacturing origins.

In doing this work, I had the chance to study the many failures, both within and outside of the objects themselves, that led them to the pile.
  • Item No. 096
  • One would be forgiven for not recognizing the form of Item 096: Part of a Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey Model T Decanter. Missing its wheels, whiskey and pretty much everything else, it survives into the future as just an irrationally-shaped bottle.
  • 1974
  • 1976
  • Item No. 048
  • I found the cans that make up Item 048: Bicentennial Seven-Up amidst other detritus in a recycling bin. That year, Seven-Up drinkers were encouraged to collect cans with all 50 states on them. When stacked in a pyramid according to the numbering system on can #1, the otherwise enigmatic patterning on the back sides lined up to portray Uncle Sam. This failed collection of 35 cans, however, remains in the realm of red, white and blue abstraction: an eye here, a bit of beard there.
  • Item No. 084
  • In the 1970s, Item 084: Unopened Bottle of G.H. Mumm & Co. Extra Dry Non-vintage Champagne would have paired well with brie, prosciutto, caviar, smoked salmon, and risotto. Those days are long gone, the champagne silently spoiled inside the unopened bottle. However, one intrepid blogger who found and tried a bottle from the same era noted that “burnt bread, raisins and even some brandy flavor dwelled in the ruddy liquor.”
  • 1979
  • 1981
  • Item No. 170
  • The creator of Item 170: In The Chips - Silicon Valley Board Game went to high school with Steve Jobs in Saratoga and was enamored of all things Silicon Valley. But the year was 1980. As such, the game cards’ “business opportunities” – starting a bookstore, a travel agency or a dry cleaning business (“hang the competition up to dry”) – might sound unfamiliar to today’s startup bro. Many of the companies mentioned, like Amdahl, Synertek, Commodore, and Monolithic Memories, are gone now. The board also features the now-defunct mall of my youth, Vallco, and the former Hewlett Packard campus, recently bulldozed to make way for Apple's “spaceship” campus.
  • Item No. 201
  • What we can only guess were a pig, cow, tractor, and other farm-related pieces have abandoned their homes in Item 201: Simplex Farm Animals Wooden Puzzle. Someone spent some time coloring in, and perhaps ruminating on, the absence of a hen.
  • 1985
  • Item No. 064
  • What possessed someone to cover Item 064: Silver Tonka Mighty Dump Truck with a coat of silver paint? Thanks to the fan site mightytonka.com, which includes detailed descriptions of every design change in every Tonka toy year by year, we can date this truck to 1990. Incidentally, that was Tonka’s 25th anniversary and the year it put out a “silver edition” of its popular Mighty Dump Truck. Clearly, what we have here is no silver edition; we can only speculate that someone tried to fool his kid, or worse, himself.
  • 1991
  • 1992
  • Item No. 151
  • Item 151: Macintosh Classic Computer (Model M0420) still turns on. But it displays only an eery pattern of white bars against a black background, like something straight out of Black Mirror.
  • Item No. 201
  • Item 132: Nike Strike Soccer Ball, is one of the more destroyed items in the Bureau of Suspended Objects. Dirty, punctured, and deflated, it is arguably no longer even a ball.
  • 1995
  • Item No. 058
  • The smushed and muddied Item 058: Que! Fire QPS-525 Firewire CDRW Drive looks as though it’s been run over by a truck. Interestingly, this allows one to peel away the plastic covering (which reads “Made in the U.S.”) to reveal a CD drive clearly made in Japan.
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • Item No. 092
  • Opening (for the first time) the box for Item 092: Culinique Specialty Food Molding System, one encounters a ghost. She smiles back at us, over a cake worthy of David Lynch. That ghost is Jackie Diaz, a “cook, inventor, dessert lover” from Cincinnati, whose frustration with ice cream cakes that melt before you can eat them led her to invent the Culinique double-cake-pan system. Evidently, the owner of this system did not find the issue of melting cakes as pressing.
  • Item No. 154
  • Item 154: Sharp XE-A102 Electronic Cash Register is missing its cash drawer, and thus has nothing left to register. A business card taped to the back indicates that it belonged to a failed arts and crafts store in Japantown, San Francisco.
    • 2005
    • 2007
    • Item No. 170
    • The headsets included in Item 142: Mindflex Duel purported to use players’ EEG signals to push a ball between them. On YouTube, the young TweeterMan287 observes – after a long, interestingly-edited montage of him staring at a Mindflex ball and muttering “concentrate…concentrate on the ball…” – that the game can be exhausting. A review on Amazon notes that it’s “fun for about 10 minutes, then you realize how silly it is.”
    • Item No. 052
    • Perhaps it was dissatisfaction with his own work that led the artist behind Item 052: Unidentified Papier-Mâché Sculpture (or his parent) to chuck this bear in the trash. Too lumpy? Not sporty enough? We will never know.
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