Designing, Creating Sculpture with Sustainability in Mind
Introduction - Musings of a [Would-Be] Eco Artist / Environmental Artist
Over the last few years, various debates springing from ecological, economical and societal concerns have developed that use the words sustain, sustainable and sustainability as signifiers which, if we understand them properly, and implement means of achieving even any degree of sustainability, will somehow miraculously lift us out of our currently unsustainable ways of life and shift us into a new paradigm where 'all will be well'.
A bit like saying 'let's not hurt anyone ever for any reason'. In other words, it's obvious that sustainability is a right way to think and approach life / consumption and so on, but somehow it is seriously difficult for the vast majority to actually grasp or implement into their lives any facet of these vital concepts!
I am particularly interested in working out for myself as a sculptor how to reduce my own carbon footprint. Though captivated by environmental issues from a young age, did I ever before pause to wonder what environmental impact the materials or methods I personally used for making sculpture were actually having? No. It hurts to make this admission. Not until recently.
Then everything changed. I started looking at this from so many different angles.
I realize now that the world doesn't just needs artists who are more aware of the need for efficient energy / energy efficiency. It needs artists who think and demonstrate sustainability in their approach to creating work, who promote conservation and the recycling of natural and economic resources.
Sustainable sculpture design / construction would somehow have to answer to the following questions:
- Can I incorporate existing materials into it (in other words, recycle, reclaim materials to create it with)?
- How long will this artwork last?
- How will it affect the environment (physical space, social, groups, etc.) in which it is placed? How will it be received? Think present-time impact, impact, impact implications!
- What environmental impact will it have when it eventually breaks down ? Think future impact, impact, impact implications.
- If it wasn't possible or suitable to create this work using recycled/reclaimed materials, then are the materials used in it from a local source, or from a source that requires a great many miles of high-carbon usage transportation?
- What is the impact of the sculpting/modelling/constructing methods used to create the work? Are my methods using tons of fossil-fuel energy?
- Does the message or communication inherent in the work have a positive impact with regards environmental issues / does it raise awareness of any issues?
As a sculptor I've created works in many countries around the world. I continue to work internationally, but as a first step in the right direction I am trying to group my projects to reduce my need for air travel.
I don't think it's a matter of radically changing my entire practice, but of continually bearing in mind the concept of sustainability from now on when I make anything, or when I have the opportunity to influence decision-makers of art projects.
As an art project consultant I have worked on projects in the USA (Anchorage - Alaska, as well as Seeley Lake - Montana), in China (World Sculpture Park in Changchun and Daguan Park in Kunming). I also helped to establish an artist residency programme at Garnet Ghost Town in the USA, from which several people including myself benefited (Merrily Dunham - painter and artist; Joe Caneen aka the Video Whisperer).
Currently, along with exploring new ways of creating artwork, I am creating a niche for myself as a sculpture park / sculpture trail consultant for historic houses in the United Kingdom and around the world. Resulting from this, I was offered to be artist-in-residence for Belvoir Castle & Estate. From now on, wherever possible, I will be touting the need for sustainability in the design of any programme I devise for clients, and in any art teaching I do.
Engaging with my work so that it is more sustainable, engaging the community so as to foster sustainability. These are worthwhile pursuits.
Each client is different. The parameters / needs / stakeholders are entirely different from site to site. So is the awareness level in terms of what might constitute sustainable design.
It is a challenge for all of us that live on earth today to contribute to ensuring we do our bit to keep earth viable.
Sustainable Sculpture: An Example
Log Henge - Spirits of the Forest is a good example of an artwork / sculpture installation directly inspired by these musings, and which is demonstrably sustainable: the logs it was made with were dead-standing Douglas Fir cut down in the local area. They were beetle-killed - and this was a great way to recycle them. The sculpture was made less than a mile from the huge timber mill where the logs were found (the mill donated them since the sculpture was a community project). Almost all other materials: most pigments, oils, steel for brackets were sourced locally, except for a pit of purple pigment which I'd brought back from China on a trip years earlier!
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