Exhibiting an artistic force for change

Associate Professor Robyn Glade-Wright's artwork, 'Mercury Rising', at the Cairns Institute

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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

11 May 2023

Art inspired by the environment

“Falling from the Sky” was a science-inspired and arts-delivered exhibition currently which ran in May 2023 at JCU Cairns, Nguma-bada campus, Smithfield. Associate Professor Robyn Glade-Wright shares her inspiration for organising the exhibition, and how she involved 20 professional artists and 50 local high school students in the project.

As summers are getting hotter, people may find easy shelter in air-conditioned buildings, but there is no relief for animals and plants. The heatwaves in Cairns in 2018 and 2019 caused an unprecedented number of flying foxes to fall from their roosting trees and die. Robyn Glade-Wright says this tragic phenomenon inspired her to organise the “Falling from the Sky” exhibition in May 2023.

“Events like flying foxes falling from their roosts are so perturbing,” Robyn says. “I wanted to highlight the changes to the environment and the impact this has had on plants and animals who inhabit the Earth.”

Robyn also invited professional artists to collaborate with her on this exhibition. “Falling from the Sky” featured 25 works by 20 Australian and international artists, including Aly de Groot, an award-winning contemporary fibre and eco-artist, textile artist Marion Gaemers, Maharlina Gorospe-Lockie, an artist and anthropologist, and Carolyn Cardinet, who refers to herself as an “accidental ARTivist (accidental artist)”.

As climate change will have an impact on the future of children around the world Robyn also invited local schools to encourage their students to submit artwork for the exhibition. To her surprise, 50 students from St Monica's College, Trinity Bay State High School and Smithfield State High School put their hands up. “Their work, thanks to their talent and their excellent teachers, was outstanding,” she says.

Falling from the Sky Exhibition visitors.
Robyn Glade-Wright.
Left: A glimpse at the exhibition in the Lux Gallery. Right: Associate Professor Robyn Glade-Wright. (Photographs: Bianca de Loryn)

Student artists having a say

In total, the three Cairns high schools submitted 29 works of art, some of which were collaborative projects between several students.

Mr Frank Brunetto, Principal of Smithfield State High School, says the exhibition was a unique experience for his students, who were proud to be involved. "Our Year 10 and 11 photography students were thrilled to be given the opportunity to be a part of this initiative," Mr Brunetto says. "Under the creative guidance of their teacher, Ms Tamara Turner, students accepted the challenge to think 'outside the box' for this project and develop innovative ways to rethink two-dimensional photography for a three-dimensional exhibit."

Smithfield State High School student, Aimee Forno, says, "We were so excited knowing that the public would see our work. Being part of the exhibition helped me to improve my skills really quickly. It also gave me the chance to do something different and creative. It was a challenge to present our photography in such a unique space."

The young artists included statements that explain their inspiration to accompany their artworks. St Monica’s College student, Naiya Duff, intended her artwork as a warning. “Overconsumption is a huge issue in today's society. Many marine animals, mainly fish, have overfished to the point of no return,” Naiya writes, and adds that “this is especially relevant in Far North Queensland, as we are neighbours to the Great Barrier Reef.”

Another work of art created by Ella and Alex from Smithfield State High School is accompanied by a statement saying that it was “inspired by climate change and the impacts on our wildlife. Birds are becoming extinct, and the birds don't have a say.

“Therefore, as humans we need to be a voice to advocate for these birds. This artwork delivers written speech of what we think the birds would say. Inside the cage is a climate change activist with the head of a bird trapped behind bars in a small cage,” Ella and Alex write.

"[Overconsumption] is especially relevant in Far North Queensland, as we are neighbours to the Great Barrier Reef."

St Monica's College Student Naiya Duff

Credit: Bachelor of Arts (Design & Creative Arts) Student, John Jiang

Mercury Rising

Robyn herself contributed several works to the exhibition. The largest piece can be found perched above the main entrance of the Cairns Institute—a more than five-metre-long waterbird made out of vinyl, bamboo, papier-mâché, glue, cable ties and silver spray paint.

Robyn titled this artwork ‘Mercury Rising’, and says she found the inspiration in scientific papers she had read. “I read about how wetland birds are being impacted by environmental pollution,” Robyn says. “This made me very upset. It is not only plastic pollution that is impacting bird populations, but other environmental pollutants as well."

Such issues include anthropogenic pressures, which are human activities that change the state of an environment, such as agriculture, tourism, mining, land reclamation, and urban development.

“Mercury Rising is a lament about the effects of a wide range of anthropogenic pressures on free-living bird populations,” Robyn says. “Mercury, for instance, is a globally distributed heavy metal of particular concern for waterbirds, as well as for other aquatic animals.”

Robyn says she is delighted by the enthusiasm of the teachers and students at St Monica's College, Trinity Bay State High School and Smithfield State High School, and she is considering turning “Falling from the Sky” into an annual event.

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Associate Professor Robyn Glade-Wright

Robyn Glade-Wright is a practicing contemporary artist and Associate Professor of JCU Arts & Creative Media. Robyn has presented over 40 solo exhibitions in public and private galleries. Her research is about aesthetics, ethics, environmental art and practice-led research. Her works of art call attention to the role humans have played in climate change, environmental pollution and species loss. Beauty is used subversively in many creative works. Lurking behind the beautiful form lies a haunting message, goading us into reflection and action to preserve the diversity of the natural environment and the life forms that are dependent on these environments.