Local artist and environmentalist Kaitlyn Elphinstone is using her art as a platform to raise ocean awareness and start a discussion about environmental issues. Some of the important environmental topics Kaitlyn’s artwork touches on are: the importance of coral, the disappearance of our coastlines, and plastic waste polluting our oceans. Her unique artistic style is a beautiful merge between a range of mediums and her love for the ocean. Kaitlyn uses her artwork as a powerful tool to communicate the strong connection we have to our environment and the impact we have on the planet. Bold visuals with an elegant aesthetic, draws viewers into the beauty of her work. As well as, to the underlying message that has been intricately interwoven into her artwork. For instance, her piece ‘Woven Sea Fan and Plastic Bag’ beautifully articulates the growing issue of plastic invading the ocean and disrupting sea life. The juxtaposition between a fragile sea fan and a plastic bag, serves as a reminder that the ocean’s ecosystems are fragile and the delicate balance can easily be disrupted by something as simple as the intrusion of a plastic bag. Kaitlyn cleverly uses plastic in this piece of art to mimic the environment, commenting on the escalating issue of plastic taking over the ocean. This thought provoking piece begs us to examine our culture of consumerism and the environmental cost and impact we face. It is said, that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Furthermore, plastic is said to be a stressor for coral reefs resulting in an increase of disease rates in various types of coral. These concerning issues our oceans are facing circles back to the heart of Kaitlyn’s artwork, highlighting the fragility of our oceans and the importance of not allowing these issues to remain out-of-sight, out-of-mind, but to bring the reality of the situation to the forefront. Calling for enacting sustainable solutions and practices. It is vital that preservation of our coral reefs, sustainable practices and recycling becomes a priority.
Q&A with Kaitlyn Elphinstone
1. What inspired you to become an artist?
My Mother, Kathryn Elphinstone who’s also an artist and arts educator, made sure that my siblings and I grew up with access to a “craft cupboard” which had colouring materials, string, paper, beads, glue, paint, Popsicle sticks, all sorts of items to make things with. This freedom to be able to create without restrictions has definitely played a part in my development as an artist. I’ve had an art project on-the-go for as long as I can remember.
2. How would you describe your artistic style?
I’ve always loved working with materials, as you can see from my work. I use a range of mediums from photography to plastics to produce visual images that explore various environmental concepts and themes. I like to think of my work as contemporary in style – my style has many variations, I favour bold starkness, and I have no problems swinging from one extreme to the other on the color scale, although I really do love my ocean inspired blues.
3. What is the driving force of inspiration for your pieces which relate to the environment?
Our relationship with the environment is incredibly complex and can be difficult to articulate. Visual art plays an important role by offering a platform for discussion and can be a powerful tool to communicate what might be very difficult to put into words.
I think we have a pretty serious gap in recognising our connection to our natural environment. My work acts as reminder that wherever we are and whatever we do, we’re impacting the environment in ways we can barely imagine. We’re constantly trying to contain, organise, mange, and place value on our environments. That separateness we feel from natural environment scares me and I feel driven to talk about it through my work.
At the end of the day I want my work to have meaning, as well as be aesthetically pleasing. While design, texture, shape and form are important, if someone can look at my work and be impressed by its beauty and at the same time be moved by the underlying message that I am trying to convey then I feel I’ve been successful.
4. What do you find most interesting about exploring humanity’s relationship with the natural environment?
I’m always learning and discovering. For instance, while I was working on Crystal Beach Rock for the National Gallery’s exhibition Upon the Seas, I had never spent so much time looking at the patterns in coral. I mean, really looking. I placed thousands of Swarovski crystals into the patters of coral rocks to talk about the value we place on our coastlines and the disappearance of our coastal environments due to development and coral bleaching caused by global warming. I always knew there were different patterns but I never really knew there were, what seams like, endless variations. While visiting the ROM in Toronto this summer I spotted a coral display amongst the fossils and was amazed to see how slowly corals have evolved. Specimens from 12 million years ago looked like they had just washed up on the beach weeks ago – and now, how quickly corals reefs are disappearing.
5. Is there a quote or message you would like to share about the environment?
That’s easy – respect it. Not just when you’re out in the elements going for a hike or enjoying a day at the beach. There’s so much we can do as individuals in our day-to-day lives to show our respect for our environment.
6. Your pieces ‘Woven Sea Fan and Plastic Bag’, what story did you want to tell? And, what was the inspiration behind the piece?
Sadly, plastic debris in our oceans is a great problem for everyone. Using a sea fan and plastic grocery bags, I wove strips of plastic into the delicate coral structure imitating natural shapes and patterns. The plastic, mimicking the environment that it has invaded, sends a message about consumption while depicting a new form of colonization by consumerism. I wanted the work to raise ethical questions, trigger conversations concerning the preservation of our environment, and perhaps even inspire sustainable solutions.
7. Your piece ‘Traces’, what does that piece mean to you and what story did you want to tell? And, what inspired the piece?
Similar to Wove Sea Fan, Traces commented on discarded objects and manufactured goods. The work was constructed out of cables, discarded cords, speakers and a TV screen which held together bamboo branches as if it were a makeshift life raft. Created for the exhibition, The Art of Assemblage at the National Gallery the interactive work tied together a mishmash of found objects and debris to tell a story of the remnants we leave behind and possible “life raft” we will need to navigate the future. The wall installation included a sound element interviewing members of the public about objects they had discovered on the beach, a lot of which were… can you guess?