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Artist Neil Mendoza Animates Discarded Objects to Make "Pretty Rubbish"

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 9 August 2018
Artist Neil Mendoza breathes new life into the objects and materials that people jettison with disregard. For his most recent venture, the British-born, California-based craftsman has scoured landfills and trash heaps in search of discarded treasures, which he collects and subsequently repurposes into clever kinetic artworks.

“Normally I don’t limit myself to trash, so this is an interesting constraint,” Mendoza told Culture Trip in reference to his artist residency at the compost, recycling, and landfill-collection company, Recology, in San Francisco.

Recology’s residency program, established in 1990, operates within the context of a tech-centric city given Silicon Valley’s position as a leading technology and innovation capital. Mendoza, whose art heavily incorporates digital technology, was selected to work onsite and create reconstituted installations out of local electronic waste and other recycled materials.

In his distinctive practice, Mendoza works to decontextualize inexpensively-purchased and found items – from symphonic kitchen knives to a tiny (live) fish called Smashie, whose webcam-tracked movements prompt an external hammer to smash miniature furniture – by recalibrating their traditional use.

From his Recology studio space, Mendoza discusses the absurd nature of his technologically complex albeit tongue-in-cheek prototypes, including a mirror with a hidden webcam that detects a face and then moves away from it, and an umbrella that rains down from the inside.

With a method deeply informed by his academic background in math and computer science from Oxford University, Mendoza employs both digital and mechanical technologies to change the viewer’s perception of space and to recast the way we think about the role technology plays in our lives. And in animating ordinary objects, Mendoza rewrites their chapters with unexpected new narratives.