‘Quadrats’ will be one of the three new bodies of works I am making for ‘Fool’s Gold’.

The square structures will be formed from discarded ‘sticks’. From the the streets I have collected abandoned mop poles, rusty poles, brass poles, electrical casing, and various wooden frames.

I am cleaning and sanding them, safe for a gallery within a museum setting. I flip from welcoming them back as usable objects, to imagining them as a raw material, found on the ground like a rock to be chiselled or a fallen tree to be carved.

As I curate and group them together – I am arguing out the desire to make them new and fresh with a coat of paint.

Instead I am drawn to bringing out the aesthetics that signify they are abandoned.

The scratches, dents, and stains.

Do I feel I have an affinity with the materials I use. Do I feel sorry for them, that they have become the abandoned. What do I see in these materials – what looks back at me.  Are they  – us? Our relationship with each other, with the planet – with dying ecosystems?

Quadrats are a tool used in ecology to sample the average amount of a species in a habitat.

My ‘Quadrats’ will act as viewfinders, framing our confused relationship with ‘nature’.

 


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As part of my process with discarded materials I consider how recyclable my work is. What if I make a site specific installation that is temporary.

My work ‘Cairns’ will be made from discarded crisp packets. At this stage I don’t know if this work will be permanent / collectable / temporary. As most crisp packets are made from metallised plastic film they are difficult to recycle, you can’t just pop them in your recycling bin (if you have one).

Currently crisp packets (all brands) can be posted to Walkers or Terracyle. It’s a very small start, according to this Guardian article. ‘Claims by the crisp producer Walkers that it has recycled half a million empty crisp packets in three months should be taken with “a pinch of salt” because they represent 0.01% of plastic waste from the number made and sold annually, analysis has found’.

‘UK consumers eat 6bn packets of crisps a year’.

Those statistics were from March this year, but I doubt much has changed. There are similar statistics for the percentage of recycled coffee cups.

Ultimately we need to stop using single use plastics. Producers of this packaging should be using the profits they make to find alternatives ASAP.

But we know all that.

After some experimentation the most efficient way for me to attach the packets together, is by using a glue gun. However it’s not removable, (and it’s more plastic), making the packets un-recyclable. As a compromise I will use paper fasteners. It will take a little longer, but the packets can be dismantled, recycled or used again, and the paper fasteners reused in a future work.

I am conscious of how I source these packets. I find most of them outside a school near my studio, or I collect them from the towpath (I live on a boat). Friends and colleagues are also collecting them for me. I don’t want to encourage people to buy crisp packets. I explain how they can be recycled and only to collect if they are already something they consume. But it feels like an unresolved part of the work.

I also wash the packets and there is a carbon impact involved in that too. They are dried with tea towels.

I feel the pressure of the restrictions I am making myself, especially when working towards a deadline. But overall it feels right.

To slow down or reduce the impact of the climate emergency we need to make sacrifices. I think that is why people are so angry at Extinction Rebellion or believe that the 6th Mass Extinction is a hoax – the consequences of our actions, and the sacrifices we need to make are too frightening. It’s much easier to RAGE, or leave it to someone else.

And yeah big organisations need to take the lead, but individually it’s our responsibility too. No?

I think this is a conversation that artists and galleries (particularly the big ones) should be having. There is no point writing an environmental policy or sending in your annual figures to Julie’s Bicycle, only to end up filling your gallery with plastic that ends up in a landfill.

DON’T GET ME WRONG, IT’S REALLY DIFFICULT.

It’s overwhelming.


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I’ve been working with discarded materials for about 4 years now. The ‘discarded’ is either rubbish (crisp packets) or unwanted items (an old bamboo blind) I find on the streets around my studio, or on the towpath around my narrowboat, or on rural walks.

I started using these materials as a surface to paint on, then as I became drawn to the materials they became sculptural and I now use them to build installations and as performance props.

It makes sense to me to use these materials directly, when talking about our disconnection to nature and each other.

They are the natural materials around me, found in my habitat. They are the natural waste, amongst the dropped leaves and broken twigs.

I am trying to avoid buying and consuming and I don’t see why it should be any different for my practice.

Using and finding different ways of manipulating each material feels like a kind of poetry. As my relationship with them changes, I return to the material finding different uses for them.

As the process of manipulating discarded materials becomes easier – my dilemma of sourcing and my self discipline around discarded materials becomes stricter.

 


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Pamela Schilderman and I have been awarded Arts Council England funding for our exhibition ‘Fool’s Gold’, opening in January 2020 (January 25th – 14th March) at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

The project, which takes place in Rugby, London, and online, will include workshops, talks, studio visits, live installations, animation, and an article.

‘Fool’s Gold’ will use discarded materials and fairytales to create new sculptures and installations that ask – if all that was left of humanity was the things we made, what would be our legacy?

I will use this space for my ideas as the project progresses, particularly around my use of discarded materials, the importance of this within my practice, the obstacles it creates and my reasoning for it.

 

 


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