Do you consider yourself to be environmental activist/ artivist?
I wouldn’t describe myself as an environmental artist as such, because my work critiques consumer culture more broadly. Recent work has considered ideas of waste and the environmental impact of consumption but other work also considers the impact on the body and the identity of the consumer caused by commodification. If I am an artivist I think my main causes / ideologies would be feminist and anti-capitalist. Environmental concerns are a part of these wider issues.
Why is this important to you?
I am concerned about advertising and popular visual culture and how gender (and other) stereotypes are perpetuated and reinforced. I think it is important to challenge these visual stereotypes to prevent them from being naturalised and deemed to be the correct way to be. I also think that neoliberal capitalism enables consumer practice to take over social practices, we come to view ourselves only as consumers and expect that buying commodities will solve all of our social issues. The exhibition Still Life: Things Devouring Time at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery aims to show that problems are caused rather than solved by consumption. My current research looks at social networking sites and advertising, particularly the relation between celebrity culture and product endorsements and how they perpetuate stereotypes and dominant ideologies.
How long have you been doing this?
I have been dealing with feminist issues in my artwork since I was an undergraduate in the late 90s / early 2000s. Over the years I have increasingly viewed the issues through the prism of neoliberal capitalism. I undertook PhD research at the Royal College of Art, looking at still life as a genre for discussing and critiquing consumer culture. Because my PhD solely focused on the impact that consumption has on the individual consumer, I wanted to also talk about societal and global impacts in the work I made immediately after completion of my PhD, so I made the Relics series using leftover packaging from previous projects. The objects in the photographs are reminiscent of the valuable cultural artefacts found in anthropology museums, but my relics are not preserved because they are important, they remain because they will not degrade. Still Life: Things Devouring Time was developed out of this aspect of my research. I wanted to show how art is an important medium for expressing sustainability issues, inviting the audience to consider the problems and their own actions or inaction.
Still Life: Things Devouring Time is on until the 23rd March. We received a grant from the Lipmann-Miliband Trust to produce some advertising posters featuring artworks by some of the artists in the exhibition. The first one, by Simon Ward, is currently on display in various locations around Leeds city centre. More posters will be installed in the new year. We are organising a panel discussion about art and sustainability that will take place at the University of Leeds on Thursday 24th January. I will also be running two workshops in which participants will be invited to make sculptural objects out of waste packaging. I will photograph the sculptures and produce some advertising posters of the work.