During a time when damage to the ecology and economic choices by government continue to challenge the ideals of environmentalism, this work reflects on the role of the environmental artist and art practice in the opening decades of the 21st century. The work is stimulated as a response by the artist to the aesthetics of beauty, the role of art as an activist platform, and transformation of both a personal nature and of objects in the creative process.
The role of the environmental artist in the second decade of this century is examined in the recent work, as an installation exhibition of sculpture, printmaking, and painting and wall works in my art from this exhibition. This work is reflexive and dialogical, drawing on environmental philosophy and other environmental artists’ to find symbolic and practical connections. The art protests against recklessness of policy makers while building an aesthetic appreciation of the artwork produced. Elements that underpin the art practice include the relationship of activist, aesthetic and transformative concerns, highlighting an integration of symbolic geometric shapes used in the exultation of mundane objects such as ocean litter. The creation of this body of work provides insights into the practice of making art that is aesthetic as well as an activist statement about contemporary society. The nexus across social comment, aesthetics and transformation through environmental art is explored.
As an environmental artist I have become fully immersed in working with these found objects collected from the Australian beaches. It is incredulous to think the many times that have been bent over to pick up the thousands of pieces of plastic debris that made up that aspect of this art, each piece jostled around for an unknown duration by sand, sun and ocean, their form altered, faded and rounded by the elements. The unabated dumping of thousands of tons of plastics has been expressed in these assemblages, installations, totems, digital prints, paintings, recycled plastic bag works and public artworks.
Many artists are now highlighting environmental concerns in their work, including climate change and issues such as the Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. Always hopeful that art can help shift awareness in a positive direction, there is confidence that the viewing public embraces these messages and is moved to act, for we need all the help we can get to address the current ecological needs of our planet. If a fraction of this viewing public experienced a shift in their awareness, by virtue of exposure to this work and to the work of other environmental artists, then all the labour and intention in the artistic process is justified. Our planet is in a fragile ecological position, and global warming hastens unprecedented change. Never have we so urgently needed art and activism to boldly promote consciousness shifts around the health of our planet.
Central concerns of this work now exemplify a commitment as an artist to express contemporary social and environmental concerns. At the same time, the work is sharing a positive message about beauty and the aesthetic experience. It is also offering examples of detritus re-cycle and re-use. There is an ongoing hope that this work encourages those who experience it to look at the environment in creative ways. People have expressed an awareness that manifests after seeing these found object artworks, particularly when they walk the beach they feel awakened by possibilities. I entrust the final alchemy of this work to the viewer with the possibility that they may experience perceptual shifts and have a positive aesthetic experience, while always hoping that the work will act as a constant reminder to walk gently on the planet.
John Dahlsen 2018