Sustainable Making article in SCMK magazine #6

Large Pearl, porcelain and woven wire basket filled with fishing line and porcelain fish. Alison Shelton Brown

SMCK magazine is an online and hardcopy magazine dedicated to promoting contemporary art jewellery and featuring international makers. The editors, Loukia Richards and Christoph Zeigler have a passion for the environment as well, incorporating found and recycled materials in their own work. In the latest edition #6 Metamorphoses is an article I wrote for them trying to answer how we can justify filling the world with my stuff as creators who are compelled to make. Of course, we are small fry and our output is minuscule compared to the multi-nationals and billionaires who could really make a difference to our futures, however, we have to believe that small things matter and we can choose our battles.


As artists and makers how do we justify filling the world with more ‘stuff’?

We are compelled to create, to practice and experiment, expanding skills and making work which can also help keep us mentally healthy. But this comes at a cost. Using raw materials of a dubious provenance, relying on mass manufacture of non-renewables such as plastic or metal, in fact a lot of what we use in our creative practices could be considered precious materials; not just the silver, gold or stones, but also the cotton – a monocrop requiring excessive water and chemicals –  the paper or wood, requiring deforestation and intensive agriculture bringing with it the loss of vital insect populations, the list goes on. Recently a friend started an environmental audit of her jewellery practice, asking a number of questions regarding where she sourced her materials, were they fairly-traded or ethically produced? Renewable or rare? What would happen if the pieces broke, could they be repaired or replaced? She also examined the global transit of goods and the known impact of air travel.  As the questions built up and rabbit warrens were run down, she became more demoralised realising that making a simple brooch or necklace had a long chain of implications on our planet and our future in being creative and making ‘nice’ new things.

So what can we do? The answer is not to stop making or being creative, as mentioned above for artists and makers that is not an option. We could focus more on digital projects or NFTs, yet online content uses huge amounts of power to maintain servers. Maybe one answer is to re-use or remake projects which have not sold. It is easy enough to do with precious metals and stones; throughout history ornate necklaces and crowns have been cannibalised or melted down to create new jewellery. A few years ago I made some porcelain ‘Sputniks’ studded with found nails and metal which I exhibited but didn’t sell, so during the 2020 lockdown I incorporated the ceramic spheres into a new project of woven wire sculptures and it starred in my first site-specific sculpture video. New life from old bones. I shouldn’t have been surprised though because my art practice is based on loving the imperfect, the overlooked and discarded, seeing the potential in a found ‘thing’ and envisioning something different. Now I realise I can continue to use and re-use elements of my artworks, challenging the original thought processes which inspired me, embellishing more or ruthlessly re-making. This is a story of reincarnation. A phoenix from the ashes, emerging from and improving on earlier innovation.

So what conclusion did my jeweller friend, Bronwen come to? She lives on the Welsh coast and forages for washed up plastic on the beach as a core material of her jewellery business, even recycling her plastic dust into eco-resin. She told me that attempting a sustainability audit was a massive undertaking, but ‘focusing on certain areas like ethical bank accounts, eco-electricity supplier, packaging or using local suppliers’ were easy to achieve, and small steps which we can all make for a more sustainable future. 'Walk in the Wood'

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