Sustainability is a word we hear a lot, and while we know business and industry needs to be more responsive to climate change, what does it mean for the arts?
Just how important is it for artists to start thinking about the impact they are having on the environment, and is the sector doing enough about ensuring sustainable practice?
Well, yes and no, says ceramicist Tatyanna Meharry. It’s something she thinks about daily in her own business; how to make as little impact on the environment as possible.
“My studio produces very little waste. It’s a really important way of how I work and a really important part of my studio,” says Tatyanna.
Crafts such as pottery and ceramics can have a big environmental footprint.
Everything from sourcing the clay, the glazes used, even the carbon footprint that comes from kiln firing has an impact.
“There’s a lot of hidden processes and knowledge that the ordinary person using these resources doesn’t know about,” explains Tatyanna. “There are only a few clay resources processed for potters in Aotearoa so this means that a great deal of it comes from overseas. There’s a growing awareness as a society of earth and land and once you realise the clay has come from a Chinese pit or an Indonesian pit it makes you think about whether its right to have someone else’s earth to tinker around with. Like other businesses, we need to start thinking about the supply chain and making that more transparent.”
“I spend a lot of time trying to open people’s eyes. These objects we use are intimate. A cup meets your lip every day. Your hand cradles the cup every time you have a coffee. It’s part of an everyday ritual and the consideration of how that object is made and what it’s made of should be important.” ~ Tatyanna Meharry
While we – as makers and consumers – tend to think of pottery as being a natural process, some aspects of pottery are not environmentally friendly. Glazes can be highly toxic and the disposal of them problematic. Water is used in large quantities and there can be a lot of waste that ends up in landfills.
Our consumer culture also has an impact.
We are used to buying cheap imported goods and replacing chipped or broken pottery rather reusing or repairing and this is something Tatyanna would like consumers to be more aware of.
“I spend a lot of time trying to open people’s eyes. These objects we use are intimate. A cup meets your lip every day. Your hand cradles the cup every time you have a coffee. It’s part of an everyday ritual and the consideration of how that object is made and what it’s made of should be important.”
Award winning fashion designer Ari Terekhova has also made sustainable fashion her number one priority.
Her prize winning collection, Urban Forager, made use of natural fibres and natural dyes, which she sources herself.
“I print with windfall leaves – the sycamore with its intricate lace design – is a great example of the beauty in nature,” she says. “I didn’t invent the method, but my colour pallet is only from New Zealand. Lots of golds, purples and oranges. There are so many colours here.”
It’s a win win situation for the designer –not only does using foraged materials help make her clothes unique, it’s better for the environment too.
“It’s about thinking about our resources and treating them with respect. Looking after our water resources, thinking about what happens to the dyes we throw away when they’re synthetic. It’s about education and realising there are so many things we can use that have a better effect.”
“There are very few logs around now. We don’t want to cut down kauri now because a lot of kauri are sick. It’s very hard to find a tōtara tree that’s suitable for carving or for waka and so you have to be very proactive in sourcing materials.” ~ Damian Mackie
Treating natural resources with respect is kaupapa that carver Damian Mackie lives by. He’s attuned to the natural environment in ways that inform his work every day.
“One day it might be a fishing day. You throw out all your hooks – your intentions – and there might be a tohu in the environment that will inform me of my work. This is the whole idea of maramataka.”
While the ideas may come freely to Damian, the cost of sourcing native rākau for carving can be prohibitive – native wood is hard to find these days and costs around $4000 a cubic metre.
“There are very few logs around now. We don’t want to cut down kauri now because a lot of kauri are sick. It’s very hard to find a tōtara tree that’s suitable for carving or for waka and so you have to be very proactive in sourcing materials.”
The scarcity of native timber also means Damian has to use other materials that aren’t traditionally associated with whakairo.
“It makes you think a lot about using materials like steel or plastics. That can be complex, not just environmentally but also culturally. Every single thing has mauri attached to it, whether it’s natural or man-made and so you have to think about how the mauri of the plastic will affect the mauri of the wood it’s sitting next to in the piece, and how the mauri will work as a whole.”
While working in a more sustainable manner can take time and thought, Tatyanna believes it’s something all makers and artists should be thinking about.
“Working this way provides natural parametres, “she says. “You use what’s close, you repurpose as much as possible and you try not to use anything harmful. It’s about being smart about the choices you make as an artist. I know I’d rather produce a smaller quantity of better quality – and I also know I’m in it for the long haul, not the short run.”
Despite the challenges, she’s also excited about some environmentally sustainable practices that are starting to take root overseas.
“In London, they’re collecting dust off the walls of the Underground and turning it into glazes. There are some really cool projects going on – looking into how to reuse industrial waste and looking at how to repurpose it.”
But consumers too need to make more conscious decisions about the products they buy.
“I think there are pockets of people where the lightbulb has gone on,” says Tatyanna. “But a much bigger conversation needs to happen. The earth is not a renewable resource in our timeline. But everybody could do this. It’s just about opening your eyes and thinking differently.”
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