Polymers in Action: Socially Engaged Art and the Environment
After years of research into various forms of environmental and sustainable art making methods, Polymers in Action: Socially engaged Art and the Environment finally took shape for my thesis project at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) in 2015. I have always been drawn to arts and crafts that reuse discarded objects and materials, restore or enhance their aesthetic appearance and add emotional resonance through a reconnection to materials, but this was different. As I researched art made from recycled/upcaycled/desycled/repurposed materials for my thesis exhibition proposal, I became aware that by only presenting a finished artwork lacked something.
That something was action. By presenting something as finished, it closed a loop for any further engagement with issues that the art was associated with. How do you do something that encourages environmental awareness if your viewers are just looking at something pretty? It didn’t seem like enough. So I started looking at models that use social engagement as a way of forming communities and educating through art making. This action oriented approach appealed to me, because it meant that I got to tap into my craft and teaching skills in a new way and with a new, expanded audience.
Polymers in Action workshops took place at OCAD during January 2015. The level of interest shown by my peers and members of the public was extremely encouraging and led to more than a few fantastic connections. I’m exited to present the workshops on this site and hope to add future projects that come out of this initial run of sessions. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and I hope that I can share this with as many people as possible over the coming months and years. Thank you for visiting and supporting this project and the artists involved.
*a side note on the webhosting. Green Geeks is listed as one of the greenest web hosts in Canada, with carbon offsetting and other nifty environmental policies. They were a no-brainer for the site development and hosted the website for three years prior to moving PiA over to free hosting on WordPress.
Polymers in Action was inspired by the socially engaged projects being run by artists all over the world. Focus on Project Vortex associated artists, Aurora Robson (USA), Gabriela Bustamante (NL) and Liina Klauss'(CHN) in particular helped shape the workshop format and audience engagement of this Toronto based initiative. As more relevant practices emerge, they will be added to this page as a resource and reference. You can read about each featured artist below.
A HUGE thank you to all three artists for their time and attention during the research phase of this project. It was an honor to interview them all and their insights were invaluable.
Aurora Robson is a Toronto born painter and sculptor. She moved to Hawaii at a young age and later settled in New York, where she now lives and works. Robson’s practice centres around images of nightmarish “blobs” that she used to dream about as a child. She transforms this insidious material into intricate and visually appealing sculptures and helps to remove plastics from the waste stream at the same time. Her aim is to draw attention to the seriousness of plastic waste in the environment through her art and socially engaged projects.
After doing more research into waste plastics, Robson was inspired to share her methods with others and soon started Project Vortex, an online hub for artists and designers all over the world who use waste materials in their work. It functions as a marketing and educational tool, with links to all associated artists and designers websites and NGOs that work towards a more healthy environment. A portion of artwork sales made through the Project Vortex site are directed to programs geared towards environmental cleanup projects.
She also started Project Vortex University and Sculpture & Intercepting the Waste Stream: programs designed for teachers to bring waste plastic art into their classrooms to encourage more environmentally focussed art practices. Robson has run these courses in Central Piedmont Community College and Mary Baldwin Community College, with both culminating in a silent auction of the student’s work.
For more on Aurora Robson and her work, follow this link.
To hear her speak quite passionately about her practice and message, watch her 2013 TED talk below.