Mariel is one of my favorite things about living in Spain (right up there with cheap wine) and one of the things I love most about her is her craftiness and dedication to using found materials. She’s always in the process of making something, be it a journal made from a paper bag with unique drawings on every page or a wall hanging featuring dozens of folded paper cranes from discarded magazines. And it doesn’t end with art supplies. Mariel always shows up with the best discarded clothes and shoes, procuring for free the style others spend cash to imitate. I sat down with her to talk about life in Madrid and the art of dumpster diving.
First off, who are you and what brings you to Spain?
I´m a recent college grad from the US and I moved to Madrid in September 2012 to teach English. Before I came here I worked a weird combination of odd jobs…nannying, gardening, house sitting…I hung out a lot.
And what do you think about Spain so far?
Life in Spain has been pretty dreamy. Madrid is a super international, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting people from all around the world, but it makes it so I hardly ever have to speak Spanish so my language skills haven´t been improving as much as I would have hoped… Otherwise, my job is easy, I live in a hip neighborhood and have cool friends, and I can eat churros whenever I want, so I am happy.
So, tell me about the art you make. Whats your medium of choice and what themes do you work with?
I exclusively work with found materials…be it old travel magazines or encyclopedias that I pick up from the Free Book Store in my neighborhood, or photographs, postcards or event flyers I find in the trash as I walk around the city. I use these images to create collages of pretty unusual scenes…babies sitting in piles of food, naked men in a field of sheep…I don´t take myself too seriously as an artist, and the reason I make collages is mostly for aesthetic entertainment, but I´d say they easily fall into the category of queer/feminist art.
How does Madrid compare to other places you´ve lived in terms of finding materials to work with? What´s the best resource you´ve found for materials?
I went to school at Oberlin College, and there is a huge freecycle culture there, but that was mostly clothes and furniture more than collage supplies. I really can´t believe some of the incredible stuff I´ve pulled out of the garbage in Madrid. I haven´t lived in other big cities, though, so I don´t really have anything to compare it to. I mostly get the images I use for backgrounds from the Free Book Store…National Geographic magazines and other publications like that. The smaller images often come from Chueca, the gay neighborhood next to mine; its great for smut!
And you´ve found a lot of great stuff thrown away besides art supplies too. What´s the best thing you´ve found so far?
I think I’ve doubled the amount of clothes I originally brought with me to Madrid, all from the trash. I got a really great denim jacket…some itchy sweaters…I got a pair of golden high-top sneakers once. I’ve also found some plates and bowls, which for me is amazing because up until recently in my apartment we had one bowl to share between four housemates! I’m on the market for a new mattress or couch, but probably won’t take anything I find for fear of bed bugs. And every once in a while, if I’m really lucky, I find a bar of chocolate (wrapped, of course).
Whats your advice to anyone who wants to try their hand at finding stuff in the trash? I´m always looking but I never find anything as good as you do!
Some neighborhoods are better for trash. Malasaña, where I live, and also Lavapiés, are the best places to look in Madrid, in my experience. It helps if you know what day the trash is collected, that way you can go out the night before when everything is “fresh.” Also, places where there bigger dumpsters, rather than just single trashcans, are always better.
Most of the time when people put clothes or other useful items out on the street, they want it to be taken so they make it pretty obvious. They leave bags open, or label them as “ropa” to make their second-hand things easier to spot. When people hear about all the stuff I get out of the trash, they probably have this image of me standing in a dumpster, knee-deep in rotting vegetables, but the truth is I rarely even have to open lids to trash cans. I just always keep an eye on the garbage, and hope I get lucky!
But I prefer picturing you knee deep in trash!
Maybe I will do a self-portrait collage of that.
So you´re leaving Madrid this summer, what are your plans?
I’ll be moving to Baltimore, MD. Future day job is still to be determined.. Baltimore is a pretty grungy city, so hopefully the trash will continue to provide me with lots of useful found materials. The art scene there can be pretty intense, though. I hope I have what it takes to be one of the cool kids.
But you´re going to travel a bit around here right? Any tips on travelling on the cheap?
Of course I will travel before I return to the States! I almost only use couchsurfing when I travel, and its an amazing way to get to know people and new places (and it is FREE!). Some of the best friends I’ve made in Madrid so far have been through CS; it really has made a huge impact on my life, both in the USA and abroad.
Eating on the cheap often involves sacrificing personal dietary health, which I don’t like to do for long periods of time, but as a temporary, money-saving sacrifice I save cash by eating mostly produce from markets, and also just eating less than normal. It’s a pretty stupid thing to do, actually, I’m not sure if I recommend being as committed to cheapness as I am, haha. I also will cook for myself (if possible), rather than eat in restaurant. That is much better advice.
Ok, one last question: You’re a pretty practical lady so its a stretch but if you had to spend an obscene amount of money on something frivolous (no houses or school!) what would you buy?
A really, really nice road bike. No question. A light, carbon frame with all the accessories I never bothered to put the bike I rode in college…a chain guard, a fender for the back wheel, a bell…Madrid isn’t the best city for cycling so I haven’t made the investment here, but when I move to Baltimore my very first purchase will be a bike!