London-based Sandra Gustafsson, special effects artist, especially interested in designing and set/prop-making for theatre and live performances, is one of those rare artists who brings as much attention to the aesthetics and concepts behind her artworks as to the meticulous details that sustains them. I talk with her about her last work ‘’Coral’’ a performances which invite us to reflect upon our relationship as human beings with environment with a fine concept of self destruction.
Hi Sandra! Your work Coral looks at the artistic ambiguities and challenges that humanity explodes nature and natural degeneration. What are those artistic ambiguities and challenges? And how does the work address them?
Hello! Yes, my work revolves around the cataclysmic relationship between human consumption and the natural world. Coral reflects on a dystopian uncertainty of how the consequences of human activity will shape and distort the future of the environment. The concept is based on facts about extinction of species, which I’ve used to develop a creative performance piece. The piece explores current issues but also speculating the unknown that lies ahead, and some of the challenges I faced was how to express this artistically. I decided to create a visually stimulating piece that’s gracious but has a sense of alarm. Despite its dystopian theme I wanted to retain notions of beauty, calm and hope.
I can see that in Coral. Your characters have a natural degeneration influence, but there is a quirkiness, something poetic and human about them. So it’s more about self-destruction or self-glorification?
The characters are developed as part of a dance piece, which naturally adds a quirky, poetic element to the more serious theme of degeneration. To best try to answer your question, I’d say it’s about a type of self-destruction through the act of self-glorification. The human character, physically over-enhanced by various beauty treatments and surgeries, greedily robs the coral character of its colourful polyps and exposes the skeletal structure underneath. This greedy, thoughtless glorification through self-enhancement quickly turns into an act of self-destruction while also destroying the surrounding environment – forcing it down the same route of degeneration.
You work with fairly sophisticated concepts. How do you manage to communicate both artistic ideas and natural issues that are not that well-known to the public without overwhelming them with complex explanations?
The main idea behind the concept was to combine scientific research documentation on the destruction of coral reefs with surrealist poem ‘Venus Anadyomene’ by French writer Arthur Rimbaud, therefore merging scientific facts with a poetic piece of writing. This inspired me to develop an experimental dance piece that intertwines these two contrasting narratives into a simple storyline using two highly visual and expressive characters to tell the story using transformative costumes and movement.
Do you think it is important for an artist to get in close contact with human consumption and destruction of the natural environment, like you do?
Excessive human consumption in our modern-day capitalist society is a relatively new phenomenon that has immense negative consequences on the natural environment. For me personally it’s a subject that I find important to explore and comment on in my work. I believe that artists carry a certain power to influence the thoughts and behaviours of the audience, or simply to raise awareness about current issues in non-conventional settings.
You are showing Degeneration of ecosystems through media art. For this piece you used coral and the human body to explore the self-destruction as transformative capabilities. Could you explain to us what this involves exactly?
As mentioned earlier, the piece explores the relationship between the natural environment, in this case being represented by species of coral, and the human consumer. I was initially inspired by the harrowing images of ‘bleached’ coral reefs on the seabed – a cluster of pale, spiky formations that have little resemblance to the brightly coloured fleshy coral that we are used to seeing. When I began exploring the subject I discovered that coral bleaching is an issue that’s primarily caused by human activity.
Conceptually, I was interested in combining the aesthetics of human skeletons and coral skeletons into a hybrid that represents the indirect symbiosis of species on our planet, along with the vicious cycle that is causing the human species to degrade and suffer as a result of its own actions.