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'A Song from Nature' Photographic Installation, Alexandria. Photograph by City of Sydney

12.04.21 | Art Pharmacy,

Five Ingredients for A Sustainable Art Practice

Ideas

We’ve been reaching out to our network of creative placemaking experts, deep thinkers, and professional creative people to contribute juicy reads on issues that rub up against our world of art and culture.

A while back we spoke with Danling Xiao, artist and founder of sustainable art and design company Mundane Matters (and more recently, ReCo, a local refill delivery service to help end plastic waste). Danling explains the foundational principles on which she has built a career around a passion for sustainability.

Danling might be familiar to you through her whimsical photographic series “Songs from Nature”, which was part of the City of Sydney hoardings pack a few years ago. This colourful series celebrated the humble food scrap in large scale.

'A Song from Nature' Photographic Installation, Alexandria. Photography by City of Sydney.

'A Song from Nature' Photographic Installation, Alexandria. Photograph by City of Sydney.

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Many of you will have also seen her work Wasteland (2018), a 24-metre tall installation set in the atrium of Sydney Customs House. Using orange-peel derived powder pigment and 120kg of marine debris from the Great Barrier Reef collected by Eco Barge, thousands of spheres were created and hung from the ceiling at Sydney Customs House. The project is a way of tapping into the scale and urgency of the current state of plastic pollution in Australia.

Wasteland was a result of collaboration between local businesses, designers, artists and the City of Sydney, who gave support through their Art & About initiative. This artwork is a gallery-quality piece (not something that ends up at the tip when the exhibit is over) as well as a landmark project that tested the application of new recycling processes and a sustainable supply chain with a message. Danling shares that

"when I built my public art installation Wasteland, I knew we were also building a mini circular business model; a model I could learn from when starting up my own sustainable business."

Wasteland (2018)

With this in mind, Danling has put together a list of 5 principles she brings to her creative projects and business models to ensure her passion for sustainability is always front and centre:

1. Make passion a priority.

The soul of art and design is the passion and emotion. This is the same in sustainable art. It makes the work come alive. In business, everything seems to take priority over emotion. It’s easy for us to forget our heart and passion when there are goals to meet and many other things to manage.

When testing and trialling her projects and business ideas, from coming up with concepts to designing the user experience, to collaborating with other local businesses, Danling would often ask herself, “Am I following my heart? Can I feel my passion? Is this an expression of my emotion and desire?” If yes, go ahead. If not, drop it.

Maintaining a passion for the essential purpose of a sustainable business is key.

2. Be bold. Be expressive.

‘What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?’, said Vincent van Gogh. In art and design, we are often encouraged to experiment and attempt new concepts, techniques or materials. We are free to express.

This is the same in a sustainable business and art practice. It reminds us that we shouldn’t shy away from our mission and purpose and that we need to be willing to innovate and experiment with courage.

3. It’s all about collaboration.

Wasteland was a collaboration between 9 local businesses, 30 people and the City of Sydney Art & About. These businesses came from different backgrounds including design, manufacturing and material supply.

In a way, it was a mini-network of a circular economy. Materials were sourced locally; recycled and manufactured locally; the installation was built by locals for our community; every operation was carried out with absolute transparency; everyone was working together on an equal level, rather than in a hierarchy.

4. Creativity, imagination, vision – the secret sauce.

What would our world be without art and design that sparks imagination? Dreadful! We live and breathe creativity. It’s what keeps the human race moving forward.

Creativity and imagination have been especially valuable in raising awareness for environmental sustainability in recent years. For example, Olafur Eliasson’s giant blocks of glacial ice across London and the Giant Hands of Venice’s Grand Canal by artist Lorenzo Quinn has brought the public gaze back to climate change on a global scale. Creative self-published content on social media and business initiatives that ‘think outside the box’ can help to awaken the environmental and spiritual consciousness within us.

5. Consistency makes the vision come true.

While growing up in China, Danling was taught that Da Vinci practised drawing an egg for three years; which laid the foundation for him to become one of the most profound artists. This story is said to be fabricated, but it has always reminded her that repetition and consistency is the key to mastering the knowledge – and hence, making our vision come true.

Applying the theory to her own art and business, Danling found that if she wanted to achieve her vision – to help tackle the global environmental crisis, or more tangibly, eliminating plastic waste and chemical pollution in most Australian households – she will need to keep on learning, searching and re-investing in sustainable creativity and business.

There’s no shortcut to a masterpiece.

Wasteland (2018). Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.

Wasteland (2018). Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.

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Danling’s creative projects are a great example of how effective sustainable art can be when done thoughtfully. We can see that a grounded understanding of a sustainable art practice can create positive environmental, social, and financial impacts that far outlast the exhibition of an artwork.

Being involved in creating sustainable art projects is significant not only for its ability to aesthetically and culturally enrich a space, but as a way of expressing a business’ commitment to sustainability through art.

Art Pharmacy can be used as a stepping stone in this process. As a full service art and culture agency, Art Pharmacy can be a helping hand when it comes to creating art using sustainable principles that also fosters innovative interdisciplinary connections.

Danling Xiao is a designer and the founder of Mundane Matters, an ideas-driven art and design practice focused on creative sustainable living. ReCo is Mundane Matters's latest environmental initiative, providing Sydneysiders the easiest way to go plastic free.

Find more from Danling through Mundane Matters and ReCo

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