Tread lightly on Earths canvas

This week I was lucky enough to visit the NGV triennial celebration of contemporary art. With over 100-featured artists to inspire I am sure the visits over the next few months will be more than one.

Wandering though the heavily regulated and orchestrated environment of the gallery with its costly works of art and wary attendants I stumbled into a room dedicated to the incredible spatial art of Argentinian Alexandra Kehayoglou. Kehayoglou has created a large format rug landscape, which directly correlates to a natural geographic region in Argentina, the Santa Cruz River.

What a breath of fresh air!

The beauty of the artwork was it didn’t feel like an artwork. It felt like a field. I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I wanted to spend a cultural day in the heart of a thriving city absorbing mankind’s creativity, but it turns out all I really wanted to do was spend some time in nature. All around me where people who seemed to feel the same. City couples had kicked off their heels to sprawl in a field; small children frolicked barefoot in the long wool grass and jumped across streams. Giant as it was we still dwarfed the landscape as if the artist was reminding us the impact we as humans have on the landscape.

'Santa Cruz River' by Alexandra Kehayoglou.

I delighted in Kehayoglous natural earthy color palette, organic forms and contours, seeing similarities between my own work stylistically as an artist as well as the environmental concerns at the heart of the artists practice. Alexandra Kehayoglou uses discarded thread from her family’s carpet factory in Buenos Aires to make sustainable hand-tufted wool rugs to draw into focus landscapes under threat of irreversible change. ‘Santa Cruz River’ documents the proposed site of two major hydroelectricity dams on the Santa Cruz River in Argentina – the last free-flowing wild river in the country.

I thought hydroelectric power was a clean and sustainable form of energy so why would Kehayoglou be drawing attention to this topic?

I did some research on the science and discovered that although Hydropower is clean is some respects i.e. does not add carbon to atmosphere, it does have potentially irrevocable consequences for the natural ecosystem. Many of the negative impacts of hydropower centre on what the damming of rivers does to the native plants and animals in the waterways that are affected. For instance, sediments build up behind dams, triggering oxygen-starved zones that can’t support river life. For people who depend on this ecosystem to survive, changing the natural environment has human consequences too. ​​

Fewer fish to eat, difficulty growing crops, and higher mercury levels which once consumed by humans never leave the body and is passed through generations causing serious neurological problems. ​​

It seems that the no matter what path we walk we do not tread lightly on the earth.

Kehayoglou has a deep, personal dedication to environmental issues, namely preserving natural landscapes. “As an artist, it’s important to me that my work has a purpose that goes beyond me and what I do.”

I too believe art should have a purpose.

Our responsibility as artists is to encourage society to look at problems from a different perspective. To act with awareness in order to produce and inspire responsible changes in ourselves, in personal relationships and in society.

'Heartland' by Nikky Agnello Acrylic and collage on plywood

‘Heartland’ is part of my topographic series in which I explore the relationship between mankind and the land through the visual language of topographic maps. I want to inspire people to reflect on human impact on the natural landscape. Striving to create an organic earthy statement I have etched my graphic contours into wood with fire and added washes of paint and collage elements from maps. The organic shapes and contours of a topographic map have been used to create a human heart built into the landscape.

'Heartland Detail' by Nikky Agnello

Muted earthy tones and abstract contours define this series.

The land is our beating heart. It sustains us, providing everything we need to survive; yet we poison and pollute it and ultimately ourselves. What happens to the land happens to people. People who directly depend on the earth to sustain themselves know this as truth, but it is a fact that is often lost to us that shop at Woolworths.

The leading global environmental authority, within the United Nations system (UN Environment) states: ‘More than 2 million annual deaths and billions of cases of diseases are attributed to pollution. All over the world, people experience the negative effects of environmental degradation as ecosystems decline, including water shortage, fisheries depletion, natural disasters due to deforestation and unsafe management and disposal of toxic and dangerous wastes and products. Indigenous peoples suffer directly from the degradation of the ecosystems that they rely upon for their livelihoods.’ These facts clearly show the close linkages between the environment and the enjoyment of human rights.

I believe we need to think of environmental issues as human rights issues and that you cannot separate one from the other.

We have lost our connection to the earth and in doing so we have lost our heart. The only way back is through love and respect for each other. When you truly care about another’s welfare you will not flippantly abuse and destroy the natural resources we all depend on to live and will treat the environment with love and respect too.

Yes, climate change is at the heart of the problem facing human survival, but what we truly need is to change our heart.

Thank you

Nikky Agnello

Nikky Agnello

Love. Respect. Human rights. Environment we are all connected.

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