Interviews about John Dahlsen’s Environmental Artwork 6

When he first started, he stumbled upon vast amounts of plastic ocean debris, collecting them in 80 jumbo garden bags full of beach-found litter. “When I first piled this collection up in my studio, I had friends drop by asking if I was okay!” he adds.
John didn’t see a giant mound of trash – rather, his unseen intelligence was at work. He saw a giant painter’s palate of colours and shapes, hues and forms: selections of yellow coloured plastics, the red, then the blues, the rope and strings, the plastic coke bottles, the thongs… the list goes on.
“As I worked with these objects, I became even more fascinated by the way they had been modified and weathered by the ocean and nature’s elements,” says Mr Dahlsen.

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My challenge as an artist is to take these found objects, which might on first meeting have no apparent dialogue and to work with them until they speak and tell their story.”??

This work was made from found driftwood objects collected from Australian beaches. ??From the artist statement; “My creative medium changed to found art as a result of one such ‘accident’ in 1997. I was collecting driftwood, on a remote Victorian Coastline, with the intention of making furniture and stumbled upon vast amounts of plastic ocean debris. A whole new palette of colour and shape revealing itself to me immediately affected me.

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Initially, Dahlsen was responding to an instinct to clean the beach as he wandered along, but his tidy-ups triggered more than a sense of satisfaction:

“I was amazed at how pristine the beaches looked each time I left a location, but it was also during this collecting time that I became more intrigued by what nature had done to the plastics,” he says.

Once his loot arrived home, the artist set about creating his first environmental work, a semi-abstract “landscape” made from abandoned plastic objects assembled behind perspex.

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While John’s art practice changes and evolves, his underlying commitment, as an artist has never wavered. He has always been motivated by a professional duty to be aware of and express current social, spiritual and environmental concerns through his art practice.

The central concerns of his work are with contemporary art practice. He has for many years been working with found and recycled objects, most hand-picked from somewhere along the Australian Coastline.

“The unabated dumping of thousands of tons of plastics has been expressed in my assemblages, installations, totems, digital prints and public artworks.

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For over ten years Dahlsen has been creating his environmental assemblage art and has garnered much recognition. He holds regular solo and group exhibitions throughout Australia, Europe and the United States.

In 2000, he won the prestigious Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW and was selected to be a cultural ambassador and represent Australia at the Athens Olympics of the Visual Arts “Artiade” Exhibition 2004.

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Found Object Art:??Using other objects that are found and recycled, John creates commissioned pieces for cities, parks and businesses. The objects differ depending upon what John finds and could range from recycled surfboards to concrete and metal. Below are examples of those commissioned pieces.??The first, entitled ‘The Guardian’ is made from scraps of steel guardrails and concrete pipe. The second, entitled ‘Convention Centre Jewell Sculpture’ is created from found objects such as fibre optics and stainless steel.

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Since then I’ve actually discovered that it’s right around the whole coast of Australia. These plastics are all around the coast, and it’s fairly identical all the way around the coast and it’s not only in Australia but its right around the globe.
It’s just a real contemporary phenomenon that has happened, this ocean litter that is floating around and they’ve made plastics that are lightweight and they do float around and they end up on the beaches across the globe. At that time, I picked up all of the plastics.

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Dahlsen’s winning work from the 2000 Wynne Prize for Landscape, Thong Totem is an ode to the enduring Australian land and ocean-scapes. The five sombre totems of washed up thongs celebrate the treading of feet upon the land, each thong with a personal story attached. Conversely the roughened rubber, worn straps and faded colour are a testament to the power of the ocean.

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One can picture Dahlsen as this peculiarly animated creature bobbing up and down along the beach collecting, sorting and imagining, then leaving with the spoils to construct another day.

The artist mimics the activities of sea birds as they go about their existence jabbing, picking, chasing and prying. The work is physically demanding; so much to see and collect!

Dahlsen’s work is alchemical in that found objects are transformed from the mundane to the extraordinary and mystical. In between is the artist’s aesthetic intuition and determined will. He encourages us to see beauty in the ordinary.

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