Arts and science don’t always work together, but three Calgary-based artists are using their talents to tackle environmental issues.
Eveline Kolijn: Coral reefs and climate change
Kolijn is a printmaker and teacher. She creates small prints and sculptural objects. Her projects involve the natural world and issues related to the environment from the coral reef to bees to deforestation.
“I’m so interested in biology and the natural world,” says Kolijn.
Kolijn spent her youth in the Caribbean until her family moved to the Netherlands. After about 20 years, Kolijn returned for a visit and was stunned by what had changed..
“I saw a tremendous deterioration of the reefs. And that was something that I really loved so much, it was a personal shock.”
This experience sparked Kolijn to start educating herself on the impacts of climate change. Soon it became clear for her to include it in her art and make a statement.
“Our rising population, our use of resources, urbanizing the cities infringe, pollute and change the natural world,” she explains.
“So automatically, concern about that becomes part of what I make images on, so I have some messaging and visualizing of what’s happening in my work as well.”
Making art about coral reefs in Calgary might be strange to some, but Kolijn says there’s a significant relationship between the two. Oil extraction is a regular practice in Alberta and one of the major contributors to climate change, altering the carbon content in the atmosphere.
As the average temperature goes up and the oceans begin to warm, the animals who live in the coral reefs experience stress and leave their coral home, which causes the coral to bleach, killing that part of the reef.
The reefs were the main inspiration for one of Kolijn’s projects. She created sculptures of intricate patterned cutouts in styrofoam boxes–the same boxes that people use for take-out and then throw away.
“One way to raise awareness is by creating a beautiful object.”
The sculptures aim to capture the attention of the viewer and educate them on styrofoam and the use of plastics.
“Styrofoam, it doesn't break down, it remains in the environment for at least 500 years, and it keeps accumulating.”
According to Kolijn, most of the plastic thrown away ends up in the oceans which harms the animals and the food chains, and pollutes the water.
Barbara Amos: Protecting Alberta’s water
Amos is also worried about water–but in a different way.
“Everything starts from that source of water so I think we really need to be aware of that and we need to protect it”
Amos does public art and community projects, paintings with colourful landscapes and has worked on environmental projects, all regarding the preservation and protection of water.
She was also part of the Red Alert Activity, a community project located in Crowsnest Pass, Alta. The area is where tributaries come into the Oldman Reservoir then travel up to Saskatoon and out into Hudson’s bay.
According to Amos, it’s a resource-based town that lacks economic diversity.
The Grassy Mountain Coal Mine is one of the main concerns in the Crowsnest Pass area, and an Australian mining company is attempting to resurrect it.
"Water is so fundamental to us ... The reason Calgary and every other city is where it is is because of the junction of a water source," says Amos.
Red Alert Activity worked in part to raise awareness to the threats of water contamination, Amos believes federal action needs to be taken to help resolve the issue.
“It's very difficult to enforce or stabilize the legislation regulations for the government to protect the watershed.”
In the mean time, Amos aims to open up conversation through her artwork and create a sense of curiosity so people can ask questions and be informed.
Lane Shordee: Recycled art
Shordee addresses the issue of waste from an ecological perspective, and, like Amos, engaging the viewer.
“What makes me interested in ecology is really understanding the environment,” says Shordee. “There can be anything that moves, and it’s part of our environment, it’s part of an ecology.”
Shordee incorporates sustainability and urban ecology in his work. He recycles excess materials that the city turns into waste by using them to create installations.
He sees opportunity when he finds something in the dumpster that he wants to transform.
“I found something really magical and interesting about scavenging and looking at everyone's leftovers. It kind of gave me an interesting perspective on the city through discarded waste,” says Shordee.
One installation created by discarded waste was the Water Spiral. The project used items from the Wildwood Community Cleanup to create a kinetic sculpture in the community garden, which would solve their water flooding problems. Shordee and others involved with the project gathered a pile of recycled wood and steel poll to build the piece.
“A good 90 to 95 per cent of the material came from that pile [...] I thought I had to supplement at least [half] of it with new material but it ended up being the perfect amount,” recalls Shordee, giving a perspective on how much waste can be reused.
According to Shordee, for people to change their habits of consuming and wasting, it needs to be visualized.
“It might kind of change your perspective, but a lot of people don't have that visualization,” says Shordee. “Often science is very bland, and it's not very palatable for the average person.”
That’s where artists come in. They can take the data given by scientists and communicate it visually.
“It takes a lot of research in the process of disseminating information and finding ways to visualize it for the public.”
Continuing to make an impact
By bringing awareness to these issues, these artists hope to make a change in people’s actions.
Kolijn wants people to be more mindful about their use of plastics, making sure that they make smart decisions about their waste.
Amos expresses that we live on “the cusp of change”, and that change should be positive and hopeful.
Shordee hopes to create biodegradable art in the future. He mentions that there are more projects coming up in the city that address understanding the environment.
“If it’s simpler it’s a lot easier to get that message across in the public […] part of the goal is to communicate.”
- By Anosha Khan