In Paper Trails, Robyn Bernadt explores death, immortality, and the realities of our vanishing planet through recycled materials, design, and formal art making. We talked with Robyn about her art practice and the background for Paper Trails.
Your art seems more gently persuasive in its politics than confrontational. Do you have any thoughts on this?
The themes in my work are very confronting, but I try to present them as inoffensively as possible. I have always been conscious of playing with the edge of taste and distaste. I have learnt that you can conceal the most unpalatable subject matter through the use of design, formal art making and a bit of cheeky humour. So the works are beautiful and intimate, but there is an underlying sense of dread, and I enjoy this clash of sensibilities.
Have you had defining moments that have compelled you to create environmentally concerned art? And if so, what were they?
I have always had an environmental conscience, but I have only recently started exploring it in my artwork. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the garden, I was very interested in permaculture, and I went camping in the forest down south every summer. So I have always felt a strong connection to nature. I am deeply saddened by the current crisis the planet is facing because it is caused almost entirely by us: humans.
Have you always used recycled items or found objects in your work?
I started painting on cardboard and scrap metal when I was at university, but I didn’t understand their potential as a material. When I left university, I didn’t have a proper art studio, so I started making postcard size collages from bits of found paper and pictures from second-hand books. Later I was still using found images from books and magazines when I began experimenting with pop-up techniques and structural packaging design. It wasn’t until more recently, working on the final series of works for my previous exhibition, that I started using recycled household packaging again. I’m drawn to recycled materials for a number of reasons. Obviously, they have less impact on the environment, but what really interests me is that they already have an identity that gives a direction for exploration and narrative.
You said this is your fifth solo exhibition. Has there been a common thread in your work, or does this exhibition represent a significant break from your previous art?
Although there is a similar thread that runs through all of my work I have noticed a shift in direction in the last two exhibitions. I have always been interested in subject matter that makes me slightly uncomfortable. My earlier works explored themes of sex and gender politics, as I have gotten older I have been instinctively drawn to contemplate the opposite: death and immortality. So this is the difference. But I have always masked the lurking unease within my subject matter through the use of design and formal art-making.
The series Weeds seems to relay a sense of hopefulness. Is this intentional? When commenting on environmental issues within the current climate is hope a sensation you wish to incorporate in your work?
I agree Weeds is the most hopeful series in this body of work. The term weed is applied to any plant that grows or reproduces aggressively, or is invasive outside its native habitat. The works in this series draw a connection between the ubiquitous nature of weeds and discarded household packaging. By definition, a weed is a valueless plant growing wild, but in this series, they rise as a symbol of renewal and transformation. Although much of the work in this exhibition is an observation of a planet on the brink of extinction, the Weeds series seems to offer a solution. There is hope if we start to value our natural environment. There is hope if we can significantly adjust the way we conduct our lives, and start valuing all our resources.
Your series Nets is stuck directly to the gallery wall, meaning each work is exhibited as a once-off event. What was the decision-making behind choosing to exhibit the work in this way?
I originally began working on the Nets as an idea for the Lightbox Laneway Gallery in Leederville. I liked the idea of exhibiting the Nets as lightboxes in a retail space. On completing the first net, I realised that the ephemeral nature of the advertising material is integral to the work’s identity and conception. The Nets perceived aesthetic value increases because it exists for a temporary period. This would be lost in a lightbox. Knowing I could still explore the lightbox idea in the future, I decided to exhibit the original works as a one-off event at Paper Mountain.
Paper Trails exhibits 14 – 29 April 2018 at Paper Mountain. Opening Friday 13 April at 6pm.