Jane Bennett is an American philosopher and her work on “vital materialism”, played a large role in me switching my art practice.
She states that there is a relationship between humans and ‘things’. Her argument is that non-human forces are active participants with their own potentialities and tendencies, which alter the web of forces affecting situations and events. This made me look at all the objects around us that can be used as metaphors and relate to our environment. That in turn has broadened my practice to add objects to my art installations and it changed the path of my art practice. For example, my use of objects such as the ladder in both my latter works, which acts as a central force that alters the entire perception of the installations.
The most relevant part for me of vital materialism is the emergence of a more ecological and materially sustainable mode of production. Taking this into account I have used materials such as wood, rope, clay etc, which are bio-degradablea and sustainable; and made them an important part of my practice. She further discusses vital materialism as commonplace things and physical phenomena such as metal, trash etc, which can transform brain chemistry and mood. Therefore, the sheer act of adding objects to one’s installation, alters the very mood by which one views the installation.
For Bennett, things act and groups of things act together. Her talk of “thing power” is material objects impacting different materials and therefore producing effects in the world. Therefore, it is important to adopt vital materialism as a way of identifying materials that have its implications on human beings in relation to the world. Taking inspiration from Jane Bennett, I have used non-human forces such as the use of a ladder, window, rope etc as metaphors to highlight the importance of interconnectedness of all organisms to our physical environment in order to keep a functioning sustainable ecosystem.
Mark Dion reveals the fragility of life on earth through his installations. Nelson uses natural and manmade objects to represent the environment much like I have in my last two installations. Mark Dion started with his extinction series in the 1980s and has now moved to environmental issues. I mostly try to incorporate both these issues into my artworks.
His exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery entitled “Theatre of the Natural World” was a turning point for my practice as I started to build large-scale installations for the first time. In this exhibition, he explores how we observe, conserve and exploit the natural world. As my practice primarily deals with the conservation of the environment and wildlife, I found this exhibition most intriguing. His use of natural and man-made materials has inspired me to do the same in my sculptural installations. His use of objects as metaphors has helped me develop my own practice.
He makes us think about our relationship with nature and how it is a social construct. His conceptions and metaphors more than his works itself speak to the viewer as he makes us look into our relationship with the natural world. He likes to discuss nature through objects. Once you go through the whole exhibition it makes you think of the consequences of mankind’s need to command the natural world. As a viewer, you’re sharing the same space but thinking of two different worlds.
Mark Dion states, “I identify with the mission of the museum, where you go to gain knowledge through things,” he has explained. “Museums are time capsules. They embody the values of their time. In the 19th century, the polar bear was presented as a fearful monster with sharp claws. Nowadays as a vulnerable creature that needs to be protected.’’ Therefore, as a viewer you go to gain knowledge through the times and since we’re living in fearful environmental times, there is a pressing need to preserve the environment and its creatures on it. My entire practice is based around environmental change and how it is a pressing issue today with the onset of technological advancement and unconstrained plastic waste.
Isabella Tree’s book is a story of hope. In the face of negative media and disheartening environmental statistics, it’s easy to turn pessimistic. This book not only inspired me to build installations that gave a sense of hope but also spoke of many interesting facts about Mother Earth. I then went on to build artworks that speak of a better tomorrow and the possibility of climbing upwards towards a better future through positive environmental change.
This book states a lot of facts about the natural life on the Knepp Estate in the United Kingdom and the restoration of natural ecological processes within it. In this inspiring story, they let nature reign control over their farm which were previously destroyed by destructive practices and notice a remarkable change for the good. In her book she talks of rare species which are made to thrive again, for example: doves and peregrine falcons. Taking this lead from the book, I too incorporated rare species on my installation with the hope that they too will be found in abundance again.
According to the 2016 state of nature report, 56% of all species on earth are declining and 15% are threatened with extinction. In this documented book, the agricultural land of the Knepp Estate has become a functioning ecosystem again. I too would like to stress the importance of a well-balanced ecosystem where humans, nature and animals all thrive through good practices. An example that has been illustrated in the book is grazing of free cattle, which also helps soil and generates ecological activity, which ultimately leads to a wilder, richer countryside, full of flourishing fauna and flora.
This story is one which tells us to let nature take back control and I took inspiration from this book for my piece, ‘Progress’ where I’m hoping for a brighter future by gaining knowledge through right environmentally sustainable practices. This book offers practices on how the earth can heal itself and how wildlife that is getting extinct can thrive with the right practices.
Redundancy and physical labour apart from recycling seem to be the central themes for Mike Nelsons installation Asset Stripper. I find his fabrication and handmade mass-produced objects quite parallel to my practice. The use of functioning objects within themselves, turned into objects with strong metaphors behind them also fascinates me and is a vital part of my practice.
The notion of balance as seen with his towering sculptures also fascinates me. The way he clearly uses scrap objects and turns them into a wonderfully balanced and deeply meaningful sculptural installation. This made me think of balance as a concept and how vital it is to my practice. The over use of plastic and other non-bio-degradable substances, throws off the whole balance of the ecosystem as these substances will choke our environment and the species living on. This in turn will lead to catastrophic environmental consequences. His use of different materials to make a tower of racks that are stacked on top of each other and his use of metaphors can be seen through the arrangement and creation of his sculptures. You can see his clear use of construction during the exhibition, for example, his partitions which he’s constructed from wood stripped from a decaying army barracks. His collection of unused things and the way he has organized and re-used them are of interest to me as my objects too have been found at scrapyards, garbage sales and refurbished or reused or stripped down to its raw material stage and then put together again.
The installation was about social equality and the welfare state in a post war Britain where natural assets have been stripped away. In the face of Brexit, for example, public buildings are being repurposed for private and commercial use. Even though Mike Nelson is talking about the stripping away of national assets, I find the concept of stripping away and reusing primary to my work as our earth’s natural resources which are in limited supply are getting stripped away leading to the decline of the environment and in turn the health of the species on it. The importance of sustainability and re use in today’s changing times are therefore of vital importance.
Phyllida Barlow’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts is entitled ‘cul-de-sac’. Cul-de-sac means a street or passage closed with a dead end. In her exhibition, Barlow portrays the claustrophobia of suburbia. In this exhibition, you have to return down the same path you entered, showing no escape. My Art installations speak of an interconnected web of ecosystems that constitute the environment, which is constantly being polluted and there is no escaping the harmful effects of it unless drastic changes are made by everyone in their daily lives, for example, recycling, re use, reduction of our carbon footprint etc.
Her starting point much like mine is a simple idea with the urge to work then along the way, you start creating, piling etc, which finally turns into an installation for the space given. You can almost see the tactile nature of her sculptures where the construction and the use of cheap material is visible to the eye such as plywood, cement, cardboard etc. The scale, colour, balance and interconnectedness of the objects used to create an installation draws me in. Her work is almost like one large system which leads from one part to the next, all interconnected and in conversation with one another. This got me thinking of ecosystems and how we’re all living organisms tied together by the environment.
Her use of mixed media and fabrication of various materials also inspires me to use a variety of materials in my installations. Her works are of large volumes and sizes that are abstract and often ‘off balance’ yet so beautifully balanced within its entirety. This got me thinking of the many systems which are at play together. They can almost seem off balance but are in reality critically interwoven into one another to create one large ecosystem, where even if one element is kept out of play, it the eco system could collapse altogether. She uses objects that we use in our daily lives with the same functions that we as humans would have, such as climbing stairs, looking out of the window etc. In my installation of hope, in a metaphorical sense, I’m hoping human beings climb every ladder to gain more knowledge of recycling materials and using less plastic in our daily lives which would in turn lead us towards a path of sustainable living and environmental change which could give us a window or an opportunity with the hope for a better tomorrow.
This book was a turning point for my practice as I was made more aware of my choices of materials for my artworks and therefore decided to use only environmentally friendly materials moving forward.
Robert Harrison, being the pioneer of sustainable ceramics draws upon environmentally friendly, socially and sustainably responsible artworks. Choosing environmentally friendly materials, which fit my sculptural forms, has always been my shortcoming and I have come to the conclusion that by working with clay and terracotta, I am more self-aware of my artistic choices before the production of my piece begins. This book looks at all the ways of reusing clay, waste materials and saving water, all of which I imbibed during the making of my pottery work.
Robert Harrison gave a lot of information on the carbon footage of clay, kilns, fuels and glaze materials and of course, the best way to set up an eco-friendly studio. I found this book to be very informative as he talks of the portfolios of various artists and the consciousness of their topics vis-a-vis their artworks. He helped me realise the role of art centres, journals and other art organization’s that play an important role in setting up an economically viable and environmentally friendly work space and art installations. I hope to incorporate his ideas of a sustainable workspace when I am back home, building my own studio.
This book ends with a section on ‘Practical Advice’, which I found most useful for myself before I tried dabbling in ceramics for the first time and how to think and work with this material. His book helped me be reflective of my choices in art and therefore work towards greater results in environmentally friendly art.