Scavenging's new spirit - Page 4

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of freebies in San Francisco
Photo by House of Herrera

They are nurturing a world of gift exchange that speaks to a new generation of recyclers who enjoy the selfish thrills of scoring, a good party, and daytime drinking more than — or at least as much as — the satisfaction people find in collective self-sacrifice and charity.

Even San Francisco Dump artist Nemo Gould isn't making his garbage art purely, or even mostly, as a political statement. "By virtue of it being made out of garbage, my art does make a statement about waste and overconsumption," Gould said. "But that's not what it's really about." Although Gould sees the danger in the complex environmental situations that create places like the SF Dump, his desire to work there had more to do with personal satisfaction than with changing the world. The dump's Artist in Residence Program offers one of the most coveted positions in the city because it guarantees lifelong access to free garbage.

"There's a scavenger spirit," Gould said. "Whoever has it is compelled to collect. Whatever comes after that is up to the scavenger."

The scavenger spirit is currently creating a subculture. Like skateboarders who view the city's byways as a concrete playground, the new breed of scavengers looks at the urban environment from a different perspective. In their eyes the streets of San Francisco are aisles in a seven-mile-by-seven-mile warehouse of free shit. Their primary goal is to decorate their homes with one-of-a-kind furniture, dress their bodies in fly gear, and pad their pocketbooks, all while avoiding overdraft charges and, on the side, helping to generate awareness. In their separate and edgy styles, Gould, Malone, Hernandez, Lewis, and Schirmer have managed to turn this spirit into a lifestyle that doesn't alienate people with its self-righteousness. I mean, everyone wants free shit, right? Who can't relate to that?


There's a fine line between scavenging to make a statement and being a straight-up freeloader. Luckily, it's up to the individual to decide exactly where that line is drawn.

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