With Degree Show One: Art in its final few days, we take a closer look at our students’ projects and the inspirations behind them.
MA Fine Art student Sofia Bonato’s practice interweaves a wide range of processes, including video, sculpture, photography, printmaking and installation. Her meticulously crafted constructions examine our daily actions which offer us immediate satisfaction or safeness in juxtaposition to the growing, collective anxiety about their environmental impact on a global scale. Bonato’s work playfully draws attention to our own perpetual, behavioural cycles, highlighting our strange, but persistent capability to consume with the knowledge that it is damaging our own surroundings. Here, she talks us through five materials and references in her Degree Show installation, and how she uses them to address environmental damage and the role of the individual.
1. The Familiar Object
The majority of our integral, daily habits are the cause of broad environmental issues which threaten our future survival. “Things” constitute the framework of our everyday lives and contribute to the formation of our identities. We invest in objects intellectually and emotionally; we give them sentimental meaning; we prize them; we frame them in systems of relationships; insert them into stories that we can reconstruct. Our relationship with things is both neurotic and sentimental. In my work, the belonging to this so-called developed society is translated into the display of several familiar objects that evoke a sense of comfort and recall our daily rituals.
2. The Advert
In the last few years we have begun to acknowledge that mass-production and over-exploitation of our natural environment are threatening the delicate equilibrium of our earth. So why do we still want to own more things? Through my work, I question the role of the individual in the contemporary landscape when what we want becomes an impediment to personal growth, and ‘happiness’ is driven by social tendency or fashion. The infinite bombardment of advertising messages results in the familiarity of the advertised object. This constant, unsatisfying pursuit leads to an inexorable cycle of ‘upgrading’ goods, fuelling the waste disposal industry and environmental damage. In the background of my Degree Show work, I have included slogans from tubes of toothpaste and distorted with bitmaps, which makes them unreadable. Crystallising the paradox of consuming while being conscious of the negative environmental impact, phrases like “Save water” and “Seductive mint gel” juxtapose and contradict each other.
3. The Experiential
We are inundated with articles that show how mass production and exploitation of our natural resources are destroying our flourishing world. In Deep in clear blue water, the screen-printed backgrounds depict environmental disasters from the Marunda river in Jakarta in 2008 and the Tiete river Brazil in 2015, where chemical waste from cosmetic factories generated huge walls of foam. These seemingly pristine clouds epitomise the tension between a natural catastrophe and the human search for distraction. In my research, I have been looking at authors like Zygmunt Bauman, who has explored postmodernism and consumerism. In Consuming Life, he detailed how time is produced, or experienced in practice, as a set of short moments – a multitude of “eternal instants” which are not connected to each other. In our consumer culture, the hierarchy of recognised values has been altered – the endurance of an object is downgraded in favour of replacement. Consumers prefer the brand new to the durable. I am currently focusing on the mechanisms that strengthen stable and persistent environmentally relevant behaviour patterns. My artwork relates to my own intention to conduct a sustainable lifestyle while, at the same time, consuming. This is a continuous paradox – to recycle and at the same time to waste.
4. The Habitual
During my Masters in London, I began looking at the repetition of specific daily habits. In particular, I looked at the consumption of goods which have aesthetic qualities that drive attention away from their impact on the environment. We habitually perform behaviours which are environmentally consequential. The most consistent example is the use of toothpaste, our everyday companion in the morning and the evening. We spend so much time in front of the supermarket shelves, looking for our perfect match. Between the different options displayed on the shelves for our choosing, commodification and advertising impact our decisions. A tube of toothpaste can have multiple personalities or characteristics: sensitive, whitening, for smokers, herbal, vegan, while products like hair dye can be: buttered toast, ginger blonde or golden walnut. In my work, I often use photo-transfers of products, supermarket shelves, magazine ads or sequences from videos, which enact habitual consumerist routines.
5. The Structure
My Degree Show installation consists of two large pieces of recycled MDF typically used in kitchen units; a host of wooden structures and stands; multiple object-based sculptures and a video. The objects are displayed on shaped and printed shelves which protrude from the MDF boards. The plinths in front of them recall the tools of advertising, displaying lids and pump dispensers from cosmetic products, with dried-out toothpaste extrusions. Through repeated printing and pencil drawing processes, displayed alongside grids, figures and geometric forms reminiscent of shelving, I have combined a “graphic” element with a “cosmetic” one. The playful objects are carefully displayed to entertain and distract from the background material which documents catastrophic events, related to the production and consumption of chemical materials. Compositely, the structure of the work produces a cycle of water, production, transport, market, consumption, waste and effect, demonstrating our own behaviours – aware but also oblivious.