It was a very ominous evening as guests fought the sheets of rain to make it to the second Holland Lifelong Learning lecture of the season. After guests dried off, grabbed a glass of wine to warm up and found their seats, they were introduced to a real-life scient… errr wait a minute! A real-live artist! The Holland Lifelong Learning series, the South Carolina Aquarium’s premier adult lecture series, typically introduces guests to a local, renowned scientist, but during this evening, a different perspective was showcased.
Artist and activist, Aurora Robson, has been working with plastic as a medium since 2004. Her exhibitions, from larger-than-life installations to compact and meticulous pieces, share one thing in common: they are made from items that were previously trashed and discarded. Nature is her ever- present and persisting muse.
When Robson first started experimenting with plastic, it was merely because it was cheap and available. These are also two of the most common reasons why it inundates our society. Overflowing trashcans and garbage floating down the sidewalks is not a unique sight- it’s something that’s happening everywhere.
“I’m not a scientist, just a woman, artist and mom,” Robson stated. Through doing her own research, she learned about the many side effects of plastic, from leaching chemicals into our water sources to its persistent chemical composition that photo-degrades, or breaks down, but never truly goes away.
One of Robson’s smaller pieces is called “Scrutiny on the Bounty,” and it’s made entirely from junk mail. “Even if you do a great job of decreasing or eliminating your dependence on single-use items, we’re bullied into more of it,” Robson noted.
Another shared trait of Robson’s work is that many of her sculptures are suspended. Her life’s mission is to turn something that we already have, something that you wouldn’t think twice about, into something reflective and even beautiful. This is the case with “Be Like Water” that hangs in Philadelphia and was created with bottle caps that were collected from students. She hopes that suspending materials will help us look up from our smart phones and other daily distractions to take time to reflect.
Aurora quickly learned that education is the best infrastructure to reach as many people as possible. Aurora frequently works with children to help them turn something negative into something positive.On Saturday, October 21st, 16 area art teachers from Sumter, Charleston, and Berkeley counties participated in a hands-on workshop at the South Carolina Aquarium. Aurora introduced them to her creative process and the materials that she loves to work with and transform. Teachers created a color wheel from glossy cardboard packaging. Their challenge was to use positive words instead of those usually associated with trash.
Aurora’s program, Project Vortex, invites artists to join a collaboration with other artists and auction off one piece of their work from the collection. The proceeds from this piece benefit a local environmental organization, thus fueling a sustainable cycle. In addition to supporting art teachers, youth projects and fellow artists, Aurora has also designed a college curriculum. College students create pieces from trash, or “collected treasure,” exhibit their work, and then auction off the pieces. Every time that this curriculum has been carried out from start to finish, every piece has sold. The money is then donated to local environmental groups.
“What we resist persists,” Aurora said. We need to use our own creativity and join the dance. By simply finding a reusable bag that’s “sexy,” you’ll look forward to using it, and you may even gather a following.
One of Aurora’s pieces, “Plant Perception,” was inspired by the way that plants grow toward nutrients and light. Aurora has a positive view of the future. By thinking outside of the box, getting creative, and “joining the dance,” we have the ability to change our behavior and grow in a much more sustainable and productive way.
Be sure to head to the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art to visit the Sea Change exhibition through December 9th. The Halsey is open Monday- Saturday from 11am-4pm. On Thursdays, they stay open until 7 pm. Admission is free. Bring a Halsey exhibition brochure to the South Carolina Aquarium to receive $10 off of your general admission ticket. This offer is valid 10/20/17-12/9/17. This partnership is made possible by the South Carolina Aquarium’s generous sponsors.