We sit in a period of time that has been described as the Anthropocene period, that is a ‘new human’ geological age of our own making.
First coined by Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen in 2000, it is a way of describing the significant global impact industrialization has made on the Earth’s ecosystems. As an artist responding to the ecological, and indeed, geological impacts of consumerism, I am seeking ways to convey this effect through my art practice. For me, there is a correlation between the way we consume and the way we value materials.
There is also a relationship between the methodology of art practice and the perceived and prescribed value of art materials. Studio based art practice tends to emphasise materials that art institutions consider valuable, like oil on canvas, bronze and marble. However, new ideas are emerging. According to Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Art encompasses ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context.’ He also suggests the term Altermodern, which he describes as a way ‘…to translate the cultural values of cultural groups and to connect them to the world network.’ The materials used then, can be superseded by the social outcomes of the art practice.
The process of collecting, cleaning and cutting the aluminium cans in the art room, during my residency at Bridgewater High School, became the interface for dialogue with the students. The stories that I relayed about corporations, consumerism, and environmental consequences, were, in the above sense, more important than the artworks produced. This is not to say the artwork itself has no value. The containers have been emptied of their contents and meaning, both literally and metaphorically, and the resulting homogenized appearance conveys more of the cans material origins than the syrupy contents or the campaign to sell you a brand.
The title of the work displayed, Alumination, references the illuminated manuscripts of celtic christianity, as well as the material processes involved to manufacture the cans. These cans now tell a story of the way we live and the value we give materials. What were once single use containers are now ascribed Accultural value through an art practice. That is, the resulting value is a combination of the interaction between myself, the artist, the people interacting with my art practice, the audience viewing the artwork, plus all the various prescribed and perceived values of the material, as a container, a brand, a drink, a source for recycling, or simply rubbish to be discarded. The value that is now created is new and unique in the context of time, people and place.
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