Photo Source: https://alchetron.com/Antonio-Stoppani
Environmental concerns are not new! With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the enlightened were already predicting a new geological age where the Earth’s physical and geological makeup would change due to extraction of natural resources and the disposal of mass-produced goods. This geological era is referred to as the Anthropocene and was predicted by scholar Antonio Stoppani way before it became a buzzword within critical circles.
[…] much of the earth’s surface by now disappears under the masses that man built as his abode, his pleasure and his defense peaks! By now the ancient earth disappears under the relics of man or of his industry. You can already count a series of strata, where you can read the history of human generations, as before you could read in the amassed bottom of the seas the history of ancient faunas.
— Antonio Stoppani, Corso di Geologia, 1873
Robert Smithson / James Cohan Gallery
So where can one find hope in this type of climate and what role can visual artists, craftspersons and designers play in creating a more sustainable future? When it comes to activism, artists have been depicting the state of our landscapes since Romanticism in the late 18th century. In the 60s and 70s artists were making environmental art and land art to reiterate concerns around how humans were changing landscapes through industrial extraction, suburban sprawl and negligent dumping. For example, the toxicity of Glue Pour, 1969
by Robert Smithson visualized the very thing he was critiquing.
Sharon Kallis crocheting dried vines in Stanley Park (Photo by David Gowman)
Over the years, environmentally conscious artists and designers have teamed up with scientists and environmentalists to move beyond descriptive practice, embracing prescriptive methods by which their practices model the very things they call for. Robin Laurence, a writer for the Georgia Straight, shared a story about Sharon Kallis, a textile artist who “crochets malleable ivy vines, dries them so they won’t re-root, and then uses them for erosion control” in Stanley Park, Vancouver. Larger urban centres are also seeing a rise in repair culture, both at existing repair shops and pop-up repair cafes.
Within the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD) program at OCAD University, there are several individuals who are currently working with and through material in an environmentally responsible way. Samantha Sheerer, Katrina Tompkins and Sandra Granite Van Ruymbeke are just three of the many artists who demonstrate that there is hope to be found very close to home!
Handmade bowl from organic waste material by Samantha Sheerer (Photo provided by artist)
Sam Sheerer, a part-time IAMD MDes student, combines her love for making with her passion to economically empower women in recessed economies in Central America. Sheerer’s research entails designing training manuals that will assist community leaders in transferring knowledge and skills to individuals who need to supplement their income by reclaiming things readily at their disposal. Sheerer has been working with her own food waste to make handmade papers, bowls and other sculpture to serve as exemplars for her teaching guide. She’s also created an extensive array of striking jewellery from discarded plastic bottles, reclaimed wire and other findings. This summer, Sheerer will be applying all of her research during a trip to a pineapple region in Honduras where she’ll help train the community in how to turn agricultural waste into new usable products by setting up regenerative modes of production in which nothing is wasted.
Handmade jewellery from recycled plastic bottles by Samantha Sheerer (Photo provided by artist)
Katrina Tompkins is also a part-time IAMD MDes student who works to teach the importance and value of craft while striving to reclaim materials where possible. An award-winning furniture and homewares designer, Katrina has upcycled wood, bricks and more to arrive at clever designs for a variety of interior and exterior spaces. One of Tompkins latest designs is a tape dispenser carved out of reclaimed brick, an assemblage that works to bring indoor and outdoor spaces together and give new function to that which has lost its value in its original context.
Brick Tape Dispenser by Katrina Tompkins (Photo provided by the artist)
Sandra Granite Van Ruymbeke is a multi-media artist who has a Master’s in Social Work. A recent graduate of the IAMD MFA program, her research explores the potential and politics of refuse. Through photography, onsite transformative performances and sculptural installation, as well as the collected discarded materials placed into gallery settings, Sandra’s research argues for the need for us to begin looking at garbage with new eyes.
Sandra Granite Van Ruymbeke, taken at Budget Iron and Metal, Hamilton (Photo by J. Gibson)
“Discarded material, for the most part, is pushed to the margins, rendered completely invisible […] denied and treated as if dead, […], but in fact they are jam packed with information, histories, politics and social charge. […] The most appealing thing to me as an artist is the process of accessing the information discarded materials withhold.”
— Sandra Granite Van Ruymbeke
Found wood, gold leaf - Hamilton City Dump by Sandra Granite Van Ruymbeke (Photo provided by artist)
Jill Price is a curator, artist and educator and an MFA candidate (2017) in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design from OCAD University.