I have always been very interested in installation art and the full sensory experience it can offer the audience. Having researched the area of shock art in my first year, my interests have now developed to encompass the natural world and in particular ecological and conservational challenges. This was further fuelled by my visit to Morocco (2015), where I encountered a much simpler way of life and was overwhelmed by the colour and mix of fresh food in the markets. Much of my work is hallmarked by the fact that I try to use recycled and donated items in my art and have incorporated either colours or shapes found in nature. In Subject last year I experimented with constructing shelters from natural resources in the UK and in Greece. This culminated in me producing an installation piece, which encouraged viewers to come outdoors to my shelter to sample simply prepared food over a cooking stove. I was aiming to reinvigorate an interest in being closer to nature, perhaps reminding them of camping trips taken in childhood.
My enthusiasm for preserving and protecting nature led me initially to research the activities that others are getting involved in. A starting point was the book about trying to incorporate greener concepts into your everyday life, which was full of appalling facts about the amount of resources we waste every year. This spurred me into considering sustainability far more seriously and roused me out of my complacency to start recycling more rigorously. In addition I began to buy all my food from local markets and steered away from products with excessive packaging. In a study group discussion, I heard about a book called ‘The Moneyless Man’, which was full of inspirational ideas about alternative life choices, which do not revolve around money and the desire to accumulate wealth. This started the seed of an idea which activated me into identifying and assessing artists who want to celebrate the beauty of nature whilst drawing attention to its fragility. I discovered artists in the book ‘Radical Nature’, who want to invoke social and political change through their work and who want to inspire the public to make alternative life choices. All in the name of protecting the earth from over- consumerisation and over use of limited resources.
I then felt that I needed to understand how and why our relationship with nature had changed over the centuries, particularly focussing on western cultures. This became a huge and complicated area of research. In my naivety I had not fully considered how many contributing factors there would be, which would take me down historical, philosophical and religious paths. At times I felt overwhelmed by the complexity of my research and by the sheer volume of the books I needed to read. Authors such as Manacorda helped shed light on our entangled relationship with nature as did Midgley’s unravelling of the impact of the scientific revolution. Her analysis helped me to understand how our technological advances had the result of making nature seem less mystical and magical and how we stopped admiring and protecting nature and moved to a mind-set of taking whatever we wanted.
Another book which was hugely inspirational was ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffiths as she focussed on the lifestyles of various indigenous tribes who live far more in harmony with nature. This opened up my thinking and research, giving me something to compare western societies to by evidencing lives which are far more in rhythm with the earth. I was heartened by their compassion for the world around them and their foresight and restraint in only taking what they needed from their surroundings.
I deepened my understanding of current environmental threats by reading, ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, ‘How to Connect With Nature’ and ‘What Nature Does For Us’. These books are full of facts and figures. At times I felt disheartened and crushed by all the negativity and the poor choices we have all made which have contributed to issues like global warming and deforestation. I then felt empowered to try and make my research count and produce something that could educate whilst also serving an actual purpose. At the same time I started offering my services at a local allotment and have volunteered at an organic farm to develop my own practical skills and knowledge.
Through discussions with tutors and other students, I started to identify the artists I wanted to research more thoroughly. I visited Richard Long’s exhibition ‘Time and Space’ at the Bristol Arnolfini, which heightened my awareness of how nature can be celebrated and beautifully recorded through artworks and poems. My deeper study of land artists, threw up heated reviews and criticism that such work is just nostalgic and romanticises our relationship with nature. I feel that researching such critics has developed my analytical skills and intellectual abilities. I have tried to consider the pros and cons in a detached way, in order to come to my own conclusions.
I have also thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the work of Grayson Perry and his ‘Julie’s house’ installation piece and have just been to Bath to view his tapestries ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’. I am intrigued by how the ‘knick-knacks’ he includes around his characters, paints a picture of their lives and provides the viewer with a very clear narrative. This was another area I wanted to try and explore further in my own work and have, as a result, produced my own narrative to accompany my artefact. I have been frustrated that owing to time and word count considerations, that I have been unable to include every artist I wanted in my dissertation such as Andy Goldsworthy. However, I have been able to refer to Mike Reynolds and his ‘earthships’ which have been hugely instructive and which have widened my understanding of a self-sustaining build.
I feel that I have developed as a person over the duration of my research and writing. I am far more in tune with green issues and aware of the social and political voice, some artists are trying to adopt to challenge public opinion around the world. I understand that critics claim that their impact is only in small pockets of society, but this is a start. As a result, I have chosen to have an artefact, an eco-style house, which I hope will have an impact on my immediate community. I feel convinced and excited about the fact that art can ignite enthusiasm, challenge perceptions whilst subtly educating and showing a different way. I very much hope that by using only recycled materials, I will be able to inspire others to build from tips and skips, for free.
I have been so absorbed in my build that it has rather taken over my life, rather impinging on my subject work. My plan to start in the summer got delayed with my Mother’s shock diagnosis of breast cancer. Then, wet weather during the autumn and a complete reliance on finding suitable discarded items to build with, has at times made me feel stressed and under pressure. However, I think that this has developed my resilience, flexibility and determination. I now have far more confidence to take on new projects and feel this is a definite area of interest for me. I am positive about the future and further work I would like to become involved in linked to ecology and conservation. I would have loved to have stayed for a week in my house following in the footsteps of ‘The Moneyless Man’, but due to costs and the site, my build is not yet completely self-sufficient.
However, I am proud of what I have achieved and feel that my build is an extension of myself, my values and my personality.