Every two years, the Institute for Art and Innovation (IFAI) hosts the Social Art Award. This year’s theme focused on New Greening. As such, we encouraged artists to reflect upon hopeful prospects towards climate change, environmental protection, ecosystem recovery, resource saving, biodiversity, etc. Within the creation process of the art projects, public engagement is essential to guarantee long-lasting impact on today’s society. As such, art can guide us towards a more sustainable and green future.
Today, we shine a light on this year’s Social Art Award second prize winner Rosalind Lowry. Lowry graduated from Chelsea School of Art in London with a Degree in Public Art and St. Martin’s School of Art in London with a Master’s in Fine Art Sculpture. She works across a range of media to create site specific land art, installations, and sculptures. In these projects, she collaborates with local communities to build “new and better ways of life.”
Her artwork entitled Blue Eyed Grass (2019) is part of a series of sixteen installations on the boglands in County Tyrone. Each intervention represents one of the species listed as endangered in Northern Ireland. As an Artist in Residence at County Tyrone (2019-2021), Rosalind Lowry aspired to learn from and work with the local rural community. In doing so, she aimed to create change through art. More specifically, in Blue Eyed Grass, she highlights issues of extinction of non-human species. In this interview, the artist reflects on the engaging and transformative power of her art interventions and how they contribute to the concept of New Greening. As such, she provides a deeper understanding of the collaborative art-making process that went along with the creation of Blue Eyed Grass.
Art as a vehicle for collaboration
What does the New Greening Project mean to you and where does your artwork fit into the conversation? What do you think is the role of art in sustainable transformation?
“The arts have always helped in visioning the future! The New Greening Project has shown how art and culture can contribute to social and environmental well-being globally, locally, and personally. Sustainable transformation isn’t just about change. It is about helping us to make meaning of our own unique changing worlds. It’s about personal place-making and connection and care for our locality. I believe art is the perfect vehicle to create these interventions and visions.”
Can you talk about the collaborative aspect of your art? What were your inspirations and how does community influence the perspective of your piece?
“As Artist in Residence on the peatlands of County Tyrone, for the last 2 years I have engaged with the local rural communities surrounding the peatlands. There is a long social and cultural history of the peatlands in the area but not a culture of protection or preservation of the area. I was engaged to help create a new vision of the land through arts interventions. A very important part of my work is about meeting the community where I work, and learning from them. I have never been a studio artist, creating personal visions, I much prefer to work for a cause or with a community to help improve a situation, or highlight an issue.
The work highlighted for The Social Art Award is one of 16 new art installations created as an art trail around the peatlands site. It is inspired by the endangered plant and species list for the area and created through a series of workshops, meetings, talks and collaborations with local groups in the education, community, farming and environmental protection sectors. Each of the 16 installations pieces is based on a plant or species discussed and developed through community arts consultations and workshops. The collaborative nature of the work was always about creating a balance, of working with the local community, and not for them so the legacy of the project would be a community effort.”
Did/Do you face any limitations/shortcomings when turning the vision of your work into reality? If so, could you explain it?
“Among the limitations faced when turning the vision of the work into reality was where to draw the line on the number of installations, from an endangered species list of almost 500. It was important to me to highlight the full problem, and every species on the list, but the peatlands are also a protected environmental site and I needed to create a limited number of works that would highlight the issue but not interfere with this delicate natural site. The community needed to be able to visit the trail but also not cause any damage to the site, so deciding the materials, dimensions and sites for the pieces was totally dictated from a New Greening perspective!”
To what extent do you see your work bringing different meanings to the New Greening vision? What type of conversation does it introduce with respect to our future goals as a society and regarding sustainable transformation?
“I hope my work is about people working together to create change through art, to tackle issues together and take creative risks to create new and better ways to live. In a world focused on economic survival, engagement in the arts has never been more vital for New Greening, for self-expression, and allowing communities to live creative, caring, sustainable lives.”
What do you wish to let the viewer know about your work that might not come out explicitly? What do you hope to inspire with your artwork?
“Sometimes the process and the journey of making art in public places is just as important as the final product, the connections and the learning together are as valuable as the art. Through its form, the materials used, and the impact on the environment, my work only ever exists temporarily and in photographic form, and many pieces are reformed or reconstituted into new works, therefore creating a line of work going back several years, all still connected.”
The creation of long-term social and environmental impact
By joining forces between education, community, farming and environmental protection sectors, Rosalind Lowry empowered a more interdisciplinary approach to tackle the contemporary problem of extinction of non-human species. Although Lowry’s art interventions are only temporarily exhibited on the boglands of County Tyrone, she succeeded to build more sustainable connections among key stakeholders in the area. These, in turn, can ensure long-term social and environmental change. In this way, Blue Eyed Grass demonstrates that active collaboration with local communities enable artist to generate transformation.
Read more about Rosalind Lowry’s art interventions on the bloglands in her daily diary!
– Interview by Antje Jacobs