Interview on Transformations Community
Stoked to have an interview with Transformations Community, a generative space and a catalyzing force for sustainability research and practice. Check out the interview with me and other artists at www.transformationscommunity.org/art
The Driving Force Behind My Work?
The years ahead of us are years of repair for the catastrophes that we have wrought, from fossil fuel emissions that lead to the climate emergency, to habitat destruction that lead to disease, to rising inequality worldwide that lead to social unrest. I believe that the arts have a critical role to play in planetary repair. I trained in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design, and it was during my travels for my art residencies and exhibitions that led me to face the various challenges—and the diversity of these—of which we are all a part of that made me devote my practice to these issues.
Please Talk A Bit About The Process Of Your Work.
I work a lot on environmental issues because I could never unsee them in all the lives I led in all these countries. As an artist, I like working with what I have, and many of my projects are driven by the material that I see, from bushfire ash in Australia to raw sewage in the Philippines to scent in the Amazon. I begin from these materials because these are what I sense, and from there I work out the story of why these materials are important and how might we care about them even though these might seem ordinary and easy to overlook? I like the idea of “the double-take”—how can I get people to pay attention to these issues that they might be numb to because we see them every day? For example, in making soap out of sewage in The Sewer Soaperie, we initially just see soaps. But upon closer inspection, people realize that they are made from sewage and this distresses some people, and then we have the emotional hook. Or for The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store, one might just smell perfumes, but if he realizes that he is smelling scents that we will lose and are already losing because of the climate crisis, then he finds another, more meaningful layer for the work. This layering of meaning is important to me because art speaks to people from all backgrounds. But it is our common humanity that I am hoping to reach, and so I strive to create inclusive spaces by which we can engage with these topics, which are often difficult to grasp and may be even more challenging to discuss with our communities.
Where Has Your Work Engaged With Systems Change-Making?
The materials I work with are outputs of the systems I aim to critique. For example, bushfire ash is a recurring resource I have because of the climate emergency. In The Weighing of the Heart, I cast these ashes into human heart sculptures to make a permanent visual register of the catastrophe, which is often forgotten soon after. In Arctic Ice Chess, I use ice to create the chess pieces and use the melting of these pieces to drive the story. Here, the ice melts to reveal toy soldiers painted with the flags of the countries that have a political stake on the Arctic and its petroleum deposits, as well as countries that are experiencing sea level rise. This illustrates the players in the system and how human behavior—in this case represented by the playing the game and the melting that is dependent on body heat and heat from the players’ discussion on Arctic issues—play a critical role in the system.