The Recovered Bottle Project

The idea behind the Recovered Bottle Project is to build community through the gifting process.

Gifting has a long history of uniting new families and tribes together while securing lasting bonds. In the past, artists created such things as copper masks, weapons and baskets as insurance for the survival of the generations to come. The Recovered Bottle Project was developed out of these ideas: as insurance for the survival of the generations of alcoholics to come.

The disease of alcoholism is powerful. It has the ability to destroy a community. As a child I witnessed the destruction of my family, yet went on to recreate the same scenario as an adult. I had not learn the simple truth: that what I put out into the world would come back into my life: fear, anger, lies, and helplessness. Finally, my problem brought me to the point where I would humbly ask another human being for help.

In the eyes of the alcoholic, the bottle is the symbol of power, the container that holds the magic elixir that solves all problems. I find them discarded on every street corner in my gang-infested neighborhood. In early sobriety, I hated seeing them, thinking they were the cause of my pain. But in later years I would see them as attempts at transformation. Today, when I see bottles on the street I am reminded once more of someone else’s attempt.

The Recovered Bottle Project began in 1996. Since then many people, alcoholics and non-alcoholics have become part of the project (keeping them for one year and then passing them on). These bottles have no ownership and many tell me of the difficulty in passing the bottle on to another person. Others tell me that the exchange, of transforming from receiver to giver, is a powerful experience.

The scrolls inside the bottles contain universal truths that I discover in my daily life. I find them in books, movies, and from general conversations I hear on the streets.

Soon after the project started I began tracking the exchange. I am interested in visually seeing the community they are creating. I have also created a series of Collectors’ Bottles, which are not given away, for those who want to own them.

Collector Bottles
Gifting Bottles

The Recovered Bottle Project began in 1996 and was created to build community through the gifting process. Liquor bottles in my neighborhood were constant reminders of someone’s discarded attempt at a spiritual connection. While others saw them as trash, I saw them as “diamond’s in the rough.” Each bottle was brought back to my studio, noting the date and location as it would become part of its alchemical process.

The project included giving them away in which the receiver would hold it for one year and then gift it to another. The exchange of transforming from receiver to giver proved to be a powerful experience.