One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Art: A Pair of Artists Plan to Change World Using Plastic Forks
Yamalieu Khuu | October 3, 2013
Two adults looked as though they were playing with their food much like unruly toddlers. It wasn’t their food that they were playing with, however. It was everything else. Napkins, sauce wrappers, and even adhesive used to hold utensil casings shut. And they weren’t playing. They were making art. Debby Kline pointed to a hole on the bottom of a cup. She and her husband, Larry Kline, improvised– moments before –using a disposable chopstick to puncture the base. “Try poking the straw wrapper through the hole,” she directed.
This assembly of dinnerware could become part of their next great art project. The Klines have received national and international notoriety for their work in both the fine arts and mainstream publications. They have been awarded grants in New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Recently, they were awarded the 2013 “Established Artist Grant” which recognizes the works of the most accomplished artists in San Diego. We sat across from them while munching on pieces of fried Japanese tempura in the middle of the University Town Center Mall food court and watched them play with their utensils while they encouraged us to stay committed to our dreams and passions.
“We’re nervous,” we announced upon meeting them. “It’s our first interview for the magazine.” We turned on our iPhone’s digital voice recorder and scrolled down a list of prepared questions we formulated for them on our iPad.
We were recently introduced to their publication “My Dinner with The Klines”. It is a hard bound book filled with glossy pages showing photos of arcane art structures they constructed during their dinner/art sessions. Our professor and San Diego based artist, Lisa Hutton, required us to attend their art exhibit during one of our classes. Their artwork left quite the impression. It expanded our minds and motivated us to follow our passions. Inspired, we requested to have dinner with them right in the heart of their mobile studio– anywhere with plastic utensils, paper napkins, and wrappers. They accepted our request.
“How about the food court at the UTC Mall?” Mr. Kline asked over the phone. It was a date.
The first question we asked them was, “How much of your art is made out of items that are ready to be thrown away?” They didn’t have an exact amount but concluded it was “a lot.” Moments later, we would be asking them how they felt about the idea of our country starting a war with Syria. They were welcoming to all of our questions, no matter how sensitive the topic.
The Klines are light-hearted enough to discuss every day ponderings, like the status of their local weather but they eat, breathe, and live for the juicy and uncomfortable realities of our world. Their art exhibit, “Poke: A Series of Provocations,” recently on display at the San Diego Mesa College art gallery, brimmed with passionate commentary on the relationship between war and religion and on the propaganda behind the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. The exhibit showcased the powerful transformation of a handful of trash into a bold artistic statement with careful crafting and snapping a photograph at just the right angle.
A walk through the exhibit brought you past large high-resolution photographs of kimonos and dinosaur bones. When you turned to the left there was a mechanical carousel of animals made out of prescription pills and a ferris wheel with pill bottles for rotating cabs. To the right were intimidating ionic columns with ancient Roman, Greek, and Asian sculptures with religious and political themes. All of the artwork was made from used items, such as modified commercial molds that came free with their low-heat ceramic oven they bought on Craigslist. Molds of Christmas angels were turned into wounded angelic soldiers with tears dripping down their faces and Santa became a medieval Moses with horns.
On shelves lining the exhibit, sat cute little teddy bears sitting in decorative cigar boxes.
“I would wager to say that you both have had a Viagra ad sent to you in your spam email boxes.” Being an all-female team, Mrs. Kline was giving an example of how blind advertising leaks into places where it is not appropriate– similar to how the tobacco industry continues to market to the masses, including young children. According to the American Lung Association, most adults start smoking when they are children. The Klines sell a teddy bear that looks like it is made for a child, but created out of tobacco leaves. Mr. Kline explains the point they are trying to make with these toys, “Our tobacco teddy bears reflect the same type of tacky marketing the tobacco industry uses.”
Their exhibit also featured boxes of colorful candies that looked completely edible made out of inedible products such as clay and paint. The glazes for the candies were mixed with the prescriptions drugs each one represented. The trick these candies played on the mind was almost frustrating. They were so appealing, but eating them would be deadly. This was the exact point the Klines were trying to make.
We closed our boxes of leftover Japanese fast food and joined the art project that was unfolding before us. Mr. Kline had a change of heart and deconstructed the utensil-bird. The decision to change the plastic forks used for feet into wings was democratically discussed and quickly voted for in-favor between the two. Not in reference to the fork-bird, we ask “what are you currently working on?” They looked at each other as if to ask the other for permission to tell us what their latest project entailed. After a long pause, Mrs. Kline divulges a few facts: “It might be on a reality TV show and it involves survivalists and sandbags.”
In their latest publication, “My Dinner With The Klines”, a photo of the Statue of Liberty proudly stands tall as lights illuminate her gorgeous figure in the blackness of the night. Lady Liberty is made entirely from a chopstick wrapper. The Klines created her while celebrating Independence Day at the New York Harbor. What almost made it into the trash after dinner became a symbolic work of art. It captured our independence as a nation, our foundation on freedom, and the immigrants who helped to solidify many of the industries that revolutionized us right into our modern day.
This is all obvious in one glance.
Mr. and Mrs. Kline met in college. The beginnings of their dinner art started when they would get caught working in the on campus art studio after hours and were kicked out. They would seek out a local spot to enjoy a bite to eat but their artistic spark carried into their meal. Quite often, this turned their dinner table into an extension of their art session. From these mealtime memories emerged dinnertime disposables transformed into insightful pieces of artistic expression. Meanwhile, the artwork they produced on-campus for their projects caught the attention of staff members in the art department at their school. They were approached multiple times by their professors to enter their work into the college’s art gallery but declined the requests. They felt that the art featured in the gallery lacked inspiration and depth.
“It was mundane,” Mrs. Kline remembers.
When approached again to show their art, they said they would “be right back.” They returned with a banner they borrowed from a nearby Wendy’s fast food restaurant and posted it across the entire gallery building where it could be seen by both those visiting the gallery and by those passing on the street.
It had one sentence on the front: “Where’s the beef?”
The Klines shared that this was their very first art-criticism commentary. Their statement was praised by the instructors. “After that, the art got a lot better,” Mrs. Kline recalls. The Klines continued to have clever responses to issues they felt strongly about, such as some of our current global crises. In regards to the U.S. taking action in Syria, the Klines shared a recent experience; while in Washington, D.C. for the presidential debates in 2004, they presented a board game on the campus of Arizona State University, Washington Center.
“The Game at Hand” initiated a dialogue between its players. “It got people talking about the war,” Mr. Kline points out regarding the wars taking place in the Middle East. “At a distance, this piece appears to be simply a beautifully hand-made chess set. Closer inspection, however, reveals the futility of this game. As viewers are encouraged to play, it becomes evident that the game cannot be conducted fairly even with the most conscientious of intentions. Once engaged, players become quickly confused; the player controlling the U.S. side of the board cannot adequately strategize and the opponent will eventually violate the rules of the game either knowingly or unknowingly.”
“It starts with us,” the Klines declared when explaining that essentially anyone can mold and shape the future. Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” comes to mind.
Mr. Kline adds a beak to the front of the bird using a piece of bent straw. This is the finishing touch on what appears to be a flying crane. “This bird can symbolize a flight into new beginnings,” Mrs. Kline proclaims referencing our new team of creative directors, Creative Labs Media, which just launched on September 9, 2013.
If there is anything we realized during our interview with the Klines, it is that we aspire to write articles that have plenty of beef.