There’s radical art, shocking art and art that will change the world. The sculpture Flower Girl by Quantum Artist Jasmine Pradissitto helps bees thrive by the side of one of London’s busiest roads, the South Circular. As the artwork opened at the Horniman Museum we caught up with Jasmine to find out how art can help sustain the world.
Made from NoxTex, which absorbs nitrogen dioxide, the hope is that ‘Flower Girl’ will clear a ‘scent path’ for bees living in the bee hotels and in the surrounding area, making it easier for them to find the food sources provided in the Bee Garden
ArtsCulture: What’s the role of the artist in society?
Jasmine Pradissitto: Long before we had the written word to record our history, we made marks on cave walls documenting our human experiences in the natural world we relied upon for our survival. For many thousands of years, the ‘artist’ has documented history. With each creative ‘Revolution’ from The Renaissance and The Enlightenment, to the Industrial Revolution, or the Conceptual age, the artist has played the role of recording human experience within the world; a world that is now entering the Anthropocene.
I believe art is society’s ‘litmus paper’.
As philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau once said: ‘it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see’ and, truly looking is a skill any portrait artist will tell you is paramount so that, for example, eyes rendered are not the classic ‘almond’ preconception of what we ‘think’ an eye looks like, but the actual 3-dimensional illustration of the sphere it occupies in the skull. Truly learning to look, is a skill an artist (as well as a scientist) develops before they can creatively reinterpret the world around them, or in my case as also a scientist, measure empirically.
In an era of infinite information and digital consumption, it is our imaginations which not only distinguish us but help to make us future proof. Small acts of creativity and the cognition they require are why the act of creating ‘art’ or being an ‘artist’ ’ is more important now than ever before. I believe artistic acts can lead to the big paradigm-shifts of creative thinking we will need to overcome humanity’s most pressing problems: biodiversity extinction and climate change. We are becoming increasingly aware these two forces of nature are responsible for everything from unclean air to the pandemic we are still in the midst of.
In a future that will be more about empathy, collaboration, aesthetics, stories, play, and meaning, artists can show the way to a more sustainable, symbiotic way of living.
ArtsCulture: How did you come across NoxTek, how is it to work with and what does it do?
Jasmine Pradissitto: Necessity is the mother of invention and I know from experience, that innovation results from limited resources and collaboration. When presented with an opportunity to create my first public art sculpture in London, I knew it couldn’t be made from the materials I was working with at the time which were discarded plastics; they would not have had the longevity or ability to withstand the elements. It was at this point that I was introduced to Michael Reid, technical consultant and co-founder of Alsitek who had rediscovered a material invented in 1979 by French materials scientist Professor Joseph Davidovits who was seeking to use it as a fireproof building material (he also theorised that the Great pyramids could have been cast similarly). The geopolymer then went under the radar until around the end of the 2000s, when Michael rediscovered the material while working at the Centre for Sustainable Engineering. 3kg of the material can clean an average-sized room for about 60 years before becoming saturated. When the material is placed outside, water dissolves the nitrogen and washes it away every time it rains (in the form of a “very, very dilute acid”), thus regenerating the material ready to absorb again.
It has been challenging to create the fluid, organic forms of sculpture I wanted from something which is effectively a thick, coagulating liquid. I have spent the last two years pioneering its use and am learning by applying both traditional and more contemporary processes such as 3D printing with Public Art UK who are helping me scale my works. What I do love particularly about it, is that it has also helped me address the idea of ‘sustainability’ in the creation of art. It stems from the by-product of quarrying and the pieces that don’t ‘work’ are crushed and used again, as well as, combined with other things like dried corn leaves. As more and more cultural institutions declare ‘culture emergencies’ how art is created will become ever more relevant.
ArtsCulture: What made you decide on the Flower Girl design? How much inspiration did you take from the Horniman and what usually inspires or informs your work?
Jasmine Pradissitto: More than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, a by-product of combustion and industrial processes, is one of the most harmful pollutants we are increasingly adding to our air. Approximately 9,500 people around London die prematurely each year because of the particulates that are in our air. This became incredibly personal a few years ago when my son had a serious asthma attack and I was left thinking about clean air as a human right all night in A&E. I felt compelled at that point to start creating work that addressed it in some way and synchronously, found just the material I needed soon after.
‘Flower Girl’ results from the cross-fertilisation of many ideas from the Venetian Masks I grew up with to the oscillating waves of my physics days as well as the frequent visits to what is our local museum when my son was a small boy to see the collection of amazing artifacts, gardens, and animals. Her face is a dormant bud waiting to blossom surrounded by curling leaves and it will only be the returning presence of her pollinator bees which will awaken her. But a piece of public sculpture needs to complement its environment. The joy of having worked with Head Horticulturist Wesley Shaw is that he created a perfect floral canvas for her to sit in amongst hexagonal beds, which we know has attracted a huge number of insects.
ArtsCulture: Does the absorption of the gas make the sculpture change colour and how long will the NoxTek be effective?
Jasmine Pradissitto: We haven’t seen this yet! I am the first and only artist currently able to work with the material. So far, the small plaque on an exterior wall of Charles Darwin’s house remains unchanged after 12 years. The white version of the material I work with was specially made for me by Alsitek and I am hoping it will self-clean because it contains such high levels of titanium dioxide. The material itself becomes harder and harder with time, can be heated to extremely high temperatures, is inert once cured and, in theory, can keep absorbing forever really if it is ‘emptied’ by the rain.
ArtsCulture: Where does Flower Girl sit with the rest of your work?
Jasmine Pradissitto: As the most recent large-scale piece, she is the culmination of all the things in the natural world that have inspired me since the age of 16 when I spent far too long on the drawings of bugs in my Biology experiment workbook. She represents what is possible with public art, through collaboration when placed in an ideal venue, driving awareness to the delicate balance of an ecosystem of bees that provide one in every three bites of food. I am also tending to find that my work oscillates between the more dark dystopian imagery I am creating in which we are struggling for breath, and the brighter more utopian future I believe we can create.
She also represents the power of a common vision and collaboration. I could not have completed her during quarantine without the help of my son Ciaran with whom I built her in our garden as well as the last-minute welding by Colin of Eltham Bees at London South Bank University and the engineering design by Dr. Robert Edwards. I had no idea like most, what was to happen but working on this piece gave me light during the very dark times of lockdown.
ArtsCulture: Should art inspire or just be enjoyed?
Jasmine Pradissitto: I believe art is there, particularly now, to illicit and to make indifference impossible in the face of global problems that are so huge no one person feels they can make a difference. How we interact with any piece of art and whether we ‘enjoy’ it is personal to our history, experience, and the society we inhabit which right now is experiencing unprecedented transformation.
Art can inspire and hopefully leave a lasting mental thread which will incubate and perhaps catalyse the observer to create or reuse and re-love. I think this can happen in many ways from planting bee loving flowers to using discarded plastics.
In a time of quarantine (a word originating from the forty days of isolation introduced during the Venetian plagues) when our physical bodies cannot experience new places, art can help to transport the mind engendering new experiences.
The huge rise in the appreciation of our natural world recently gives me great hope that through culture, as well as science and engineering we can engender change and create the impact we need for a new improved ‘normal’ in which we no longer strive to conquer nature but learn from our ancestors who drew on the cave walls to live more symbiotically with our planet home.
ArtsCulture: Jasmine, thank you!
See more of Jasmine’s work on her site: http://www.pradissitto.com/
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