An environmental art prize that encourages hope in the wasteland

The Hornsby Shire Art Prize, ‘Remagine’ allows artists to envisage and champion new ways of sustainable living.

‘We all know what the problems are. But I think what people really want is hope. They want a positive outcome or something to look forward to, rather than just doom and gloom and [the idea] that everything’s too late. It’s good to make people feel empowered. Like they can do something, that they can take action if they want to,’ says Nadine Schmoll, last year’s winner of the Remagine Prize.

The art prize, which has been running since 2009, has an environmental theme every year. The theme for 2023 is ‘Wasteland or Wonderland’, which refers to decisions made daily about waste created, the impact on the planet and whether we can envisage a more sustainable future. A total of $11,000 in prize money is available and artists can submit work in various formats including: digital stills, sculpture, photography, mixed media, ceramics, painting, drawing and printmaking.

Schmoll already works on environmental themes in her art practice, but she’s been working as an art educator for over 10 years, so she found the educative and sustainability aspects of the Remagine Prize to fit perfectly within her artistic ambit.

The artist enthusiastically tells ArtsHub how her childhood background and work history were informed by choices that align with a duty of care for the planet. ‘I was the kid that came to school with my lunch wrapped in repurposed plastic wrapping or chip packets,’ she says. ‘My mum especially always had a real awareness for the environment. And then I used to work for an organisation called Reverse Garbage Queensland, which collects industrial discards from local businesses. For quite a few years, I was managing the environmental art workshop program and going out into schools and educating kids about sustainability and creative reuse.’ 

Five Vessels, her work that won last year’s Remagine Prize, spoke to the 2022 theme of ‘Planet Earth: The Future is Circular’. Schmoll says, ‘I work a lot with plastic waste materials and so Five Vessels was made by repurposing waste polyethylene water bottles. I developed this technique whereby I use heat, water and sand to manipulate and sculpt the shape of the bottles. I was particularly interested in creating these vessels as repositories of hope to represent the unlocked potential that we all have inside each of us to champion for sustainability and to do what we can for the environment.

‘Plastic is something that we discard very readily, so we don’t place as much value on it as a material as we do on something such as glass, for example. But, when you think about it, plastic actually comes from crude oil, which is a valuable resource that comes from the earth. So, when I create my work, I really want people to think about the material itself and the inherent value that it has, as something that can and should be reused, rather than just discarded.’

Schmoll is entering this year’s prize too, adding that she finds theme-based art competitions challenging, but in a good way. ‘It does push you to innovate to work within those constraints,’ she says. ‘You have to be imaginative and yet still try and keep your ideas within the confines of the particular art prize.’

Although she trained as a teacher and education is inherent in everything she does, Schmoll points out that to get a message across in the arts, it’s important to be playful not didactic, ‘especially when it comes to serious, important issues like the environment’. 

Entries are now open for Hornsby Shire Council’s Remagine Art Prize 2023.

The Remagine Art Prize exhibition will be held from 18 May until 4 June 2023, at Wallarobba Arts and Cultural Centre, 25 Edgeworth David Avenue, Hornsby, NSW.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on