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Art Department | SO SoCal

Waste Not

September 08, 1996|Naomi Glauberman

Where do old power meters go to die? The Department of Water and Power's Recycling Center in the industrial north of the San Fernando Valley is the first stop. After that, some will be bought, cleaned, refurbished and shipped to the Philippines. Others might end up in mobile home parks, but the lucky ones find a resting place at the DWP site as part of Jacqueline Dreager's recycled art installation

The meters, as well as stacks of tires, rows of giant spools, miles of cable, exhausted fire hydrants, cracked electric meters, gray and brown porcelain insulators (which look like the dirty cups from a giant's tea party), bins of switches and wires, office desks and voltage regulators, lie on a huge lot stretching beyond the center's streamlined new building.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," says Peter Nardi. As the senior store keeper, he oversees the final disposition of the DWP's debris. If it were not summer in the Valley, it would be easy to imagine Nardi, with his full head of white hair, fringe of white beard and bemused blue eyes, as a jovial Santa looking over his stock. "Everything gets sold," he says, explaining that even outdated computer circuit boards in the adjacent warehouse are bought and stripped of trace metals. Everything, that is, except for Dreager's sculptures. A Los Angeles native, Dreager created the installation over two years through the city's 1% for Art Program, administered by the Cultural Affairs Department.

Nardi agrees to be today's docent. The first piece he shows is a spectacular red-headed snake, 20 feet long and 20 inches in diameter, sheathed in strips of copper wire, that sits atop a grassy knoll at the entrance of the complex. Nearby stand 7-foot-tall sentinels: two insulators, one topped with a red glass lamppost shade, the other by a green personal computer with a message from Thomas Alva Edison ("I can never pick up something up without wanting to improve it") emblazoned on the screen.

A series of sculptures, using water meters, PCs, wye pots and engraved poetry, is set in a small employees' garden, adjacent to the offices of the recycling division. A black globe, resting on metal piping, serves as a sundial; a red water-turtle shell lies almost hidden in the ground. A glass clock, atop a pillar of dismantled water meters, permanently reads 11:55, the promise of an eternal lunch break.

Behind Nardi's office, in the shade of an overhanging eave, four summer interns stare intently at a metal sculpture of a turkey, musing on the shortness of its insulator neck. "Oh, that was made by a guy who works in the other building," Nardi explains.

"He makes art, too," says Ivan Sandoval, pointing to a fellow intern, Daniel Miod, who steps aside to reveal a 6-inch metal man made of nuts, bolts and twisted wire. Long before he found himself in this trove of industrial debris, Miod says he made action figures like these. He heads across the yard, trailed by the other interns. Returning to the office, where Nardi fills out the paperwork for the $1 sale of a porcelain insulator, Miod presents the store manager with his newly constructed figure: a 1-foot metal warrior. "I never knew he made these," says Nardi, placing the piece on a windowsill. He shakes his head, suggesting with a bemused look that art can be found in anything.

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