From the symbolic to the practical: ways to consider climate change

With entries open in March, the Northern Beaches Environmental Art and Design Prize 2024 seeks works that reflect a sustainability theme.
Amelia Lynch, ‘Marramarra’, 2023, glazed ceramic (Finalist 2023). Image is a multicoloured curiously shaped piece of small sculpture. Climate Change, Trent Jansen

Trent Jansen, one of three judges in the Northern Beaches Environmental Art and Design Prize 2024, believes artists and designers can make contributions on many levels when it comes to addressing the environmental challenges we face now and into the future. ‘I feel like, for some artists and designers that are more on the activist end of the spectrum, it can be things like offering political commentary, in terms of their style or processes that endeavour to tell important stories and disseminate this information to large audiences. 

‘A lot of projects I’ve done over the years have been about telling important stories that are connected to or around the narratives of climate change, particularly on projects working with remote Indigenous Australian artists and designers. We hear a lot about urban spaces, but not so much about the impacts of climate change on these marginal places.

‘We can build people’s knowledge on the things that are effecting change, through stories and ideas. But, at the opposite end of the spectrum, designers working in commercial projects can build or design solutions to the impacts of climate change.

‘Whether that’s designing things that help us to deal with the scenario that we find ourselves in as climate shifts [or proposing that] we need to alter the ways in which we live and work. So maybe [it means] designing new products that have more effective uses of materials, or using power more efficiently to transport ourselves around in a less impactful way – to generally think about how we can change our everyday processes.’ 

Presented across three key Northern Beaches arts venues between 2 and 25 August, the Northern Beaches Environmental Art and Design Prize offers the community a chance to engage with the insights that artists and designers bring to our understanding of the natural world, sustainable living and the environmental challenges we face together.

2024 will see an increased prize pool of $46,000, largely across two major prizes – $20,000 for the Visual Arts category, encompassing a full range of media, and $20,000 for the Design category, awarded to the best work across wearable and functional design. Other prizes will be awarded for Young Artists and Designers, and the People’s Choice Awards.

Jansen reiterates that, as a judge, he’s looking out for everything from expressive storytelling through to practical ideas of changing the way we live to exist more sustainably.

‘It just depends on your strengths as a practitioner, and also what your interests are. You don’t necessarily have to twist your practice into a pragmatic outcome if your passion and skillset is in telling stories and communicating ideas. By the same token, if you’re a practical person interested in material efficiency, or the consumption of energy, or the extraction of resources, you can use a technically-focused approach to create efficiencies to change the way that we consume.’

Jansen explains that he has long been interested in ideas to save the planet, ever since his university days when he studied an elective called ‘Global Crisis’ in his Design course. This inspired his project on sustainability and adaptive reuse, using materials that have already had a life to make something else. 

As a first-time judge of the Environmental Art and Design Prize, Jansen tells ArtsHub he’s excited to see the innovative ways in which people can evoke sustainability in their creative work, and is curious to see everything on the spectrum – from the symbolic to the practical.

Northern Beaches Environmental Art and Design Prize 2024
Call-out open: 20 March – 19 May 2024
Finalists announced: 28 May 2024
Winners announced: Thursday 1 August 6 – 8pm (exhibition opening)
Exhibition: 2-25 August 2024

Images of 2023 finalists’ works, courtesy the artists:
Amelia Lynch, Marramarra
Jane Theau, Retired (At Last!)
Kate Ballis, Ficus Albipla
Sarah Tracton, Firelight
Rebecca Hosking, Kuarka Dorla Estuary Journey

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