Adrift on a Plastic Sea

Nikky Agnello talks to French artist Carolyn Cardinet, about the battle of making art and the greatest battle facing us all,

the battle to survive Climate Change.

Carolyn describes herself as a plasticienne or artiste en art plastique, which means visual arts practioner in French but which is also in Carolyn’s case alludes to the medium of single-use plastic which she re-uses and assembles in a new form to convey her environmental messages.

Carolyn Cardinet strives with determination to create meaningful art with a

message about sustainability.

This prolific Melbourne based artist has impressed me with her hard work and determination as she strives to make a name for herself in the Australian art world. What strikes me most about Carolyn is the business like manner in which she conducts her arts practice. A far cry from the absent minded artist stereotype she is driven and organized. I suspect her to do list is endless and her calendar is fully accounted for months in advance and it’s this impressive power to plan which is something I believe is vital to any contemporary artist who wishes to succeed today.

Being an artist may seem romantic from afar but in reality it is long nights and relentless hard work. Breaking into the art scene is often a slow agonizing process with many rejections along the way. As Carolyn says ‘It is a constant love and hate relationship. You are your own boss, marketing department and admin department writing proposals for exhibitions and prizes and you still have to find time to earn a living, raise a family, be a housewife, driver, cook, return to study and make the actual artwork…it is a 7 days a week commitment for the rest of your life!’

But would we have it any other way? Certainly not! As she says ‘when you are dedicated and passionate, you do find your voice’. So why does Carolyn do what she does? ‘As an artist I have been prolific, always wanting to learn the next medium, but what I felt was missing was a focus. As my arts practise developed I discovered I no longer wanted to do art for arts sake, but art for a reason and that reason being to represent life as it is, with the purpose of giving back.’

Carolyn states ‘I am dedicated in my practice to give back. I work with communities wherever I am, I travel the globe to spread the message of Plastic consumerism and the environment and conduct art & sustainability workshops to share my knowledge. I also take part in artist residencys internationally and show my work in exhibitions to reach the masses.’

I first had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn at The Frankston Art Centre where she was giving an artist talk about her site specific installation work ‘Glacier’.

'Glacier’ by Carolyn Cardinet Installation Artwork featuring two towering glacier forms sited in front of a polystyrene packing box wall, onto which a video artwork of a melting glacier in iceland by Angela Barnett is projected.

Carolyn rates her large site specific installation ‘Glacier’ at Frankston Art Centre’s Cube 37 as one of her greatest achievements to date. The artwork was a collaboration with video artist Angela Barnett to discuss the plastic contamination of the marine environment and it’s effect on climate change. The work took a backbreaking 18 months and thousands of single use containers all carefully sourced and hand washed by Carolyn to make.

This powerful and thought provoking artwork is what first drew my attention to Carolyn’s arts practice. The giant glacier forms were cleverly sited in such a way that the public were able to move amongst them which worked to draw their attention to the fact that what they were actually seeing was thousands of their own discarded plastic single use bowls, bottles and coffee cups. Angela Barnetts video artwork background featuring footage of a melting glacier gives context for Carolyns recycled plastic creations, reinforcing the reality of climate change.

So why should we care about Plastic and the Sea?

When we talk about climate change and the sea many of us are familiar with images of melting icebergs and turtles suffocating in marine plastic trash. These images are disturbing enough for environmental crusaders and animal lovers, but have you ever paused to consider what impact ocean pollution has on human life? You have probably already thought about the impact a dirty unpleasant beach will have on your holiday plans, or how annoying it would be to not be able to afford fish for dinner as prices rise due to loss of marine life. Unfortunately we are here to tell you even if you live nowhere near the sea and don’t like fish you will be affected in many life threatening ways.

165 million tonnes of plastic debris is floating in the oceans, and a further 12 million tonnes are added every year. As a result, fish and wildlife are becoming intoxicated and consequently the toxins from the plastics have entered the human food chain, threatening human health. Direct toxicity from plastics comes from lead, cadmium, and mercury found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans. Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues and human hormonal function.

Plastic is not only causing an environmental crisis but also a human rights crisis as millions of people around the world have their health impacted!

The average Australian creates 50-70 kg of plastic waste per year!

I can hear you saying 'but I’m doing the right thing!

I use my yellow bin and recycle my plastic!'

Unfortunately Australia’s recycling industry relies on China as a major market for recycled plastics but in January this year China introduced a ban! This leaves recyclers such as Visy with nowhere to send waste so right now your waste is stockpiling and is in danger of being dumped in landfill, even though you did the right thing.

'I think Australians are starting to realise, albeit slowly, what is happening. Not having many recycling facilities in Australia finally people are starting to ask themselves; where is my waste going?’ Artist Carolyn Cardinet

So how can we as consumers make improvements in our own lives

to help counter climate change?

‘Make a conscious decision about consumerism, buy less and choose items without plastic wrapping.’ Carolyn Cardinet

For those of you who interested in finding out more about plastic and it’s relationship to climate change Carolyn recommends the excellent ABC Iview series ‘War on Waste’

or her favourite environmental news resource Ocean Deeply.

You can see more of Carolyn’s work at her upcoming solo show this month

‘Plastic Tide’ Solo Exhibition by Carolyn Cardinet

19 Sept- 18 Nov, Yering Station, Yarra Valley

Artist talk Sunday 28 Oct

'The exhibition titled 'Plastic Tide' brings the viewer in direct contact with their daily sins which I collect, wash and gather in my studio through the year to construct large installation works’ Carolyn Cardinet

Thank you

Nikky Agnello

Please subscribe to my Art Adventures Blog to join me on my journey.


Art to stir the Social Conscience

Nikky Agnello is an award winning

art director, graphic designer and artist with over 15 years experience working internationally. As a conceptual visual artist her work centers around the interconnected relationship between human rights and environment.

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