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Written By

Stephanie Schierhuber


College of Arts, Society and Education

4 August 2021

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Artwork to save the environment

Climate change is emerging as the biggest issue of our time. JCU Associate Professor of Creative Arts Robyn Glade-Wright is harnessing the power of art to engage the public and shine a light on the science.

Known for artwork that challenges viewers, Robyn’s works present environmental concerns veiled in beauty.

“I try and make the work appealing so people will engage with it, then unfortunately it reveals some sort of haunting message,” she says.

Her history of confronting environmental art is as extensive as it is thought provoking, but the inspiration for creating such a work doesn’t come from imaginative whims or fanciful daydreams. Instead, it stems from the mounting evidence within climate and environmental science.

“I think that being involved with scientists in terms of how we look at the world is a beneficial relationship. I certainly see it as a two-way street,” says Robyn.

Taking aim at marine plastic pollution, JCU’s Creative Ecologies research collective took advantage of the benefits of the varied perspective across the arts and sciences to curate the Plasticine Marine Exhibition. Conflating the beauty of art and the dread of marine plastic pollution, Robyn’s works used discarded plastic to provoke a response from viewers.

Following the Plasticine marine exhibition and amidst a record-breaking heatwave, Robyn’s piece Microplastic Found in Human Embryo made visible the horrifying effects of microplastic. The piece drew on the research of Eco-toxicologist Heather Leslie, whose work has demonstrated that plastic particles can pass through the placenta and the blood brain barrier, and potentially cause harm.

The artwork was constructed from over 1000 discarded plastic bottles, which were collected with shocking ease and highlights the extent of the plastic waste problem.

“I thought that it might be complicated for me to collect so many bottles but, in fact, it was really easy. I went on maybe five occasions to collect bottles in my local area in a few streets and I was amazed at how many bottles I could collect.”

Turtle artwork made of ocean rubbish
Artwork depicting a fetus made of plastic bottles
Left: Robyn's artwork Inflated 2018 displays the confronting result of sea turtle consuming plastic. Right: Robyn transforms 1000 plastic bottles into a stark reminder of where discarded plastic ends up.

Inspired by the beauty of North Queensland

The unique habitats of North Queensland motivate Robyn to create environmental art.

“I chose to come to Cairns because of the beauty, and one of the motivations for my work is to work towards sustaining the natural beauty that exists and the amazing plants and animals that we share the planet with. That’s a major drive of my work, living in the tropics in this beautiful region.”

A fascination with the concept of beauty also shines through in Robyn’s most recent piece, Too Hot to Handle Reef Diss-dress, which puts coral bleaching on the runway. The work juxtaposes bleached coral against elegance and light. Robyn hopes that through capturing the attention with an item of beauty, the work can illuminate the extreme problems of climate change.

Too Hot to Handle Reef Diss-dress serves as a harbinger of worse to come,” Robyn says. “As we stand teetering on the abyss of irreversible decline, the message within the work is thoughtful, provocative and hopefully significant in producing a paradigm shift of our appreciation of the world with all its problems and inherent beauty.”

Robyn is not alone in harnessing art’s power to communicate the big issues of our time.

“I think that there are a lot of artists, and I’m one of them, who deliberately make artwork to address issues that we see as being important.”

A close-up of the material on Robyn's dress artwork
Model wearing the Too Hot to Handle Reef Diss-Dress piece by Robyn Glade-Wright at the POSE wearable art event in Townsville.
Left: A close-up of Too Hot to Handle Reef Diss-dress. Right: Too Hot to Handle Reef Diss-dress. Images provided by Robyn Glade-Wright

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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.