Art and Sustainability: Quid Pro Quo- Negotiating Futures (Cambridge Sustainability Residency)

I believe in the transformative power of art and this power can be expressed in many ways. The Cambridge Sustainability Residency is one of this avant garde examples of collaboration between artists from all over the world and sustainability champions. This Residency promotes debates and imaginations concerning climate change, sustainability, recycling, upcycling, visions of the world, social issues, gender, and the environment. This time the artists came with a collection of amazing works, interpreting, challenging and presenting their own interpretations of those debates.  Using the empty premises of a former shop, the exhibition was co-0rganised with  Changing Spaces Gallery (another amazing initiative in the nomadic experience of art and sustainability).

The residency is the brainchild of artists Marina Velez and Russell Cuthbert, supported by the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University. The fourteen selected artists encompassed sculpture, moving image, photography and installation and this year included the curator Vanessa Saraceno from Italy, who I had the pleasure to meet. thanks to her I am able to include original images and accurate information about the works, the artists and their meaning (thanks so much Vanessa!)

I stumbled by chance to this wonderful exhibition, and I found a plethora of inspiring interpretations of art. Starting with the installation/sculpture of Ariana Jordao & Suzie Olczak called “Suspended Animation.” An installation of several plastic bags containing specimens of plants floating in water, hanging from the ceiling: it makes you think about hydroponics, but also, botanical dynamics or hanging gardens, like in the Ancient Babylon…. one may even try to eat the specimens, as they are all edible plants…  The idea is based on Ariana’s background as a scientist (before she joined the art world) and the way in which scientific knowledge create certain “views” of objects and Susie Olczak’s interest in how viewers experience space, form and light. The combination of these two talents make me think in two levels: one when a plant become an specimen (these are all edible weeds freely available) or an art piece, and secondly, the way in which we consider gardening.  It also made me think about the “gaze” created in the art gallery, something that differ of the scientific gaze organised in the laboratory or the clinic, and the ‘rambler’ gaze, walking through fields and hills. All of them come across the same object, the same plant, yet the meanings are differently constructed.  In this work, I love the fact that the floating plants were delicate and fragile, yet, attainable, like jewels or scientific data (so precious) as the earth herself.



Susie Olczak, Ariana Jordao
Suspended Animation
Common weed, freezer bags, laboratory instruments, glass water, labels, wire, agar, kombucha, glycerol
Dmensions variable

In contrast to this  aquatic exploration, the work of Kristian Hofstadter proposes a challenge to our conceptions of carbon footprint. He offered a minimalistic installation of a “cow” and a “glass of water”, reminding us how much green house gases are actually produced by cattle and meat consumption. This is an example I used in my class on The Natural Environment and the Stakeholder.


Krisztián Hofstädter
Embedded Water
Wood, 2 glass pints, water, soy milk
Dimensions variable


A similar challenging approach is taken by Marika Troili, who presents a number of “white” clay vegetables in which a number of words are projected:  “fast growth”, “economic efficiency”… these words refer to the capitalistic approach of world wide food industry, obsessed with “growth” and “profit” over “health” and “prosperity” or equality.


M_Troili 2Marika Troili
Paradise Still
fruits, vegetables, spray paint, wooden boxes, video loop

The issue of responsibility is also addressed by Marina Velez, however this time she shifts the question from the corporations (agro-industry, etc) toward the individual. Her work questions our own decisions regarding the environment, how we consider it when deciding on consumption, travels or affiliations.  She also uses Seed bombs (packets of seeds that can be planted in the Guerrilla Gardening style originated in the 1990s), that lie around the gallery space, de-activated and [apparently] inert, “suggesting that the job is yet not done”.

Velez - Harvey

(Left) Marina Velez
Pencil on paper
300×100 cm

(Right) Marina Velez
Seeds, soil, water
Dimensions variable


Working with a similar “material” the work of Sabine Bolk relates to wall paper and organic floor carpets made of rice, hence called “rice carpets”. She is interested in folk art and temporary art and throughout the gallery there are these carefully designed rice-carpets, made of rice, grains, beans, chickpeas and other grains… this is inspired by the Corpus Christi procession held in Cambridge from 1352 to 1535, a ritual that conveys a number of meanings, and what she tried was to bring these multi-semiotics in the materiality of the rice-carpets: as food? decoration? protest? ritual? Tracing back the route of the procession, Sabine asked residents for some materials for this installation, and this is the result:


Sabine Bolk
Plastic Bottles Cup, Beer Bottles Cup, Rice, Lentils, Chickpeas, Oats, Spaghetti, Raisins, Green Tea
Dimensions variable

I also enjoyed the work of Brazilian designer Andrea Bandoni, in her representation of the Pirarucu, a giant fish from the Amazon. She created a real-life representation of the fish, that is used not only for meat but also the scales are used in decoration.  Andrea borrows the language of the museum in the explanation of what is “exotic” or what is the “other”. I find this approach particularly intriguing taking into account the colonial “gaze” on every day objects or situations, like the consumption of fish by communities around the mighty Amazon. Who is the “native” and who is the “anthropologist”? At the same time it calls our attention on the richness of the Amazon, nowadays threatened by the exploitation of mining companies and meat producers who are destroying ancient ways of living and potential cures for diseases…


Andrea Bandoni
10% Pirarucu
Wood, Ink on Paper, Fish Scales
240x60x7 cm

Finally I was regaled by a jar of  “sourdough” a living being used as yeast in the preparation of bread. Before I had to commit to a “contract” in which I promise to keep the sourdough alive for generations to come. This final gift, in my opinion, summarize the message of the exhibition: all of us bear a responsibility of the present and future of the planet, it is a gift, a wonderful world, but need care and attention.


In a similar way, my work with the botanic drawings are a reminder of the fragility and beauty of the world, in my illustrations I do not attempt at a faithful depiction, rather I try to reveal the magical, the whimsical and the joyful side of nature. My illustrations, are invitations to “savour” the delights of nature, but they come with a responsibility!



Beatriz Acevedo (2014)


Watercolour on Fabriano Paper

I am really inspired by this initiative and the fact that there are a majority of female artists who lead this initiative.  This resonates with my ongoing interest in the issue of gender and sustainability intersecting the realm of art.  Something to think about…








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