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Sustainable Art & Design

The concept of green living has become an increasingly popular topic, and the world of arts and design is no exception.

As people all over the world become more aware of our collective need to protect the planet, we are seeing a growing number of artists embracing this concept and working in the realm of sustainability.

But don’t be fooled, sustainable art and design practices aren’t exclusively linked to using natural materials, non-toxic paints or even waste to create beautiful things…

What’s Sustainable Art & Design?

Sustainable Art & Design can be define as work created in harmony with the key principles of sustainability, which include our natural world, social justice, non-violence and grassroots democracy.

Works are deemed sustainable if they are made up of eco-conscious and / or upcycled materials, leftover materials and / or objects potentially classified as ‘waste’, and are made through processes that do no harm to our planet’s already overly stretched resources. These creations, along with the ways they are made, seek to highlight the stark reality of our world today.

In a nutshell, if we imagine sustainability within a framework of ethical art connecting nature, math, science, politics, fashion, aesthetics and social participation, then the field widens to include everything from the Parthenon to natural collage work by Christina Oiticica, a Rio de Janeiro native artist with a tremendous focus on footprint-free art.

“But social impact?”, you will ask…

Yes, that’s correct. By using art as an innovative medium for awareness, artists become advocates, highlighting and challenging some of the biggest issues of our time.

Fantastic work is taking place all over the world and I would to highlight the Helsinki Biennial as one of the most innovative spaces for sustainable artists to showcase their work.

The inaugural event happened last year and a total of 145,000 people visited Vallisaari. In addition, the biennial provided art experiences all around Helsinki.

This contemporary arts and design event is setting the example for future international exhibitions as a climate-neutral affair. Only using 20% of the land and placing artworks along pre-existing paths, the event ensured that the heritage and biodiversity of the territory were not comprised. They also measured its carbon emissions, from waste to energy consumption, and trained their staff on environmental awareness.

Certainly, one to watch in 2023!

So, how do you become an environmentally conscious art lover?

Well, here are my top tips:

1. Support artists using their work to highlight pressing social issues. From using powerful imagery, colours, and hues, artists can showcase what’s happening in society and make us ponder on issues like women’s safety, inequalities, racial challenges and climate change. Check Eduardo Kobra illustrious mural such as ‘Las Etnias’ (The Ethnicities). This mural lined the entire Olympic Boulevard at the 2016 Rio Olympics – talk about a celebration of human diversity!

2. Looking for unique furniture pieces with low footprint and extra style? Irish Homegrown platform Refunk is a great place to start.

3. Talking about local design, exchange the old pair of ‘Just Do It’ for some trainers by Irish brand Sampla – these made from leftover apple waste!

4. Belfast design studio, Jump The Hedges, makes stylish and extremely long-lasting bags from reclaimed truck tarpaulin.

5. Looking for a decoration piece packed with history and character? Well, pre-loved, vintage art is a great way of going about it. Or even try swapping art with friends or family members.

6. Ask your art dealer for pieces that honour our beautiful planet and are consciously made. Paintings of trees, mountains, wildlife. Photographs of the ocean, a forest, a bee on a dandelion. Handwoven textiles and baskets inspired by the colours and patterns of nature. There are so many ways sustainable art can honour the planet’s resources! Sculptures made from recycled and reclaimed materials. Paint made using natural pigments. Items woven from seagrass or bamboo. I could go on…

Today I will leave you with the reminder that at its essence, Sustainable Art & Design is one of innovation, social justice and environmental awareness.

It’s fair wages above astronomic profits. Uniqueness above mass production. Quality craftsmanship above mindless consumption. And transparency above everything.

Originally written for the Irish Tatler

For more on sustainable living, find me on Instagram @iampatkane

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