Our Disappearing Planet Project
Interview with Chloe Chao
Chloe: As an artist that has worked in the environmental art field for 20 years, what changes have you witnessed in the field?
John: Some of the changes that I’ve seen in the field of environmental art can be described with words such as explosion, finesse, public acceptance and absolute intrinsic necessity. I believe there is a large percentage of artist working with environmental themes these days in the outfield, compare to when I began somewhere around 25 years ago where it was viewed as novel.
Chloe: Although some may argue that political lobbying regarding environmental policies and climate strikes/protests are the most effective ways to help the climate crisis, in what way do you think that environmental art can still be impactful?
John: The same as always. I’ve never had the illusion that environmental art was going to be a game changer, however it does have its impact in the most mysterious ways. One of those ways is catching the general public which include policymakers unaware when they view these types of artworks, and a shift In consciousness and awareness happens. I’ve always been aware of this and the limitation of art to bring about change on the one hand, however on the other there is definite perceptual shifting that happens through art and that I always trust.
Chloe: When looking at some of your artist’s statements, one of the questions that you posed jumped out at me: “Can this art that I show in exhibitions, shift our thinking on matters of sustainability or is it complicit in the exploitation of the earth’s resources for human consumption?” Have you come to a conclusion on this question? Is your opinion ever-changing?
John: This is a very good observation on your part Chloe, and I don’t believe that’s a conclusion to this question, which is okay for me because you answered the question yourself by asking is your question ever changing? The answer to this is yes.
Chloe: Are you ever worried that viewers will romanticize plastic as a material from your aesthetic presentation of color and shapes?
John: This was always going to be a possibility, especially with my work which heightens the sense of aesthetic beauty in all of my pieces even though I’m using a very basic material, which is found plastic, rubbish, trash, that is washing up on our beaches worldwide. However I do believe that because of the razors edge with which I create these artworks where there is an invitation for the viewer into the work either because of the beauty or because of the message and once in the artwork the viewer then gets a bit of a slap of realisation about what’s happening to the environment , or on the other hand gets to immerse themselves in the sense of beauty and colour and composition and form that I intentionally create with those works. I’ve seen very blunt and what I believe to be lazy environmental art being created particularly with these plastics over the years by new artists, who don’t bring that element of artistic integrity or alchemy to the work and I don’t believe that’s at all helpful to the cause of creating environmental art because I believe it’s more likely to turn people away and lessen its impact and lesson also the public and the art worlds validation of environmental art. I believe it’s important to have many layers in the creation of artwork and in particular in the creation of this type of artwork that is environmental art and in particular artwork that uses ocean little plastics. So, no I don’t think there’s much chance In my case of people over romanticising the waste issue with my works, because there’s enough of an environmental statement plain to see that will limit romantics around this Issue.
Chloe: What artistic accomplishment are you most proud of? And why?
John: I think stumbling across plastics on the beaches around 25 years ago and having the inspiration to create art from what ours collecting is probably one of the most important accomplishments that I have had as an artist. I say this because it came from within myself entirely and was not inspired by anybody else other than my own observation and my own need to create. And this I’m incredibly proud of.
Chloe: What is your greatest hope for the future / What is your greatest fear for the future?
John: My greatest hope for the future is humankind continues to grow and expand and develop in a meaningful and loving way especially in the way that they treat each other and the way they treat the earth.
My greatest fear for the future is that unconsciousness may have the possibility of reining supreme which would unfortunately spell disaster for us and our planet.
Chloe: Do you have specific examples of your work having an impact on other people?
John: Oh, I could probably name specific works that have had impact on certain individuals or groups of people however think I want to keep it fairly broad and just say to you I know my work has had an overall impact on abroad cross-section of people over the years who have learnt a great deal from being exposed to these works about two main themes that are contained within the work and that is environmental themes and activism and aesthetics’ and beauty. There is the third element that has been instrumental in shifting people‘s perception that happens on the whole other level. And this is what I call transformation, we are people who review the work that they have shifted into a space of utter meditation having experienced the first two layers.
Chloe: Any advice for young artists unsure about pursuing art as a career?
John: When giving advice to young artists unsure about pursuing art is a career, I would say first up that I would only pursue art as a career if I had the passion to do so. And how this passion materialises in a person is one of those mysteries.
One has to realise that so many variables coming to play during the career as an artist, which include doing many other forms of income generation to support the artistic career.
This can include as I am now doing, being a senior lecturer at a university in Brisbane in Australia, getting a PhD in environmental art, being a house painter in previous years, also in previous years, being a bartender, being a waiter, and numerous other part time employment including being at Garden the window cleaner etc. So, if a person is happy and can be satisfied with doing other jobs without getting despondent then that will help. Because having a positive attitude to life is so important especially being an artist and also, having the attitude that nobody owes you anything, it’s entirely your creation to be an artist you’re the one making it up as you go along and so therefore nobody is responsible when things don’t work out. That’s why it’s always good to know what your passion is and to do everything that you can do to support that passion all through your life.
(website link: https://ourdisappearingplanet.org/)