Sifting through the Anthropocene Scene

Global Warming, pollution and climate change, these are the buzzwords of our generation and have become an undisputed fact of our world. But there’s a new player on the scene, Anthropocene, what scientists refer to as an atmosphere and environment totally altered by us – humankind.


Poly Ubiquitous

Adelaide Artist Cynthia Schwertsik has created her stunning photo series Poly Ubiquitous inspired by her interpretation of the term landfill, and the impact of the Anthropocene landscape on its creation.

Anthropo - from the ancient Greek anthropos meaning “human” and Cene - from kainos meaning “new” or “recent”, and it started with the industrial revolution of our society.

In an effort to beautify the city centre and conceal much of the construction work at building sites around Sydney, 10 submissions were recently selected from hundreds of artists to create the Site Works creative hoardings program.

Poly Ubiquitous is Cynthia’s striking submission to the program. “I hope this artwork brings awareness to the next piece of plastic we hold in our hand before it becomes garbage,” says Cynthia Schwertsik of her photo series Poly Ubiquitous. At first glance, the brightly coloured images appear abstract – only upon second look does the subject matter make itself known – plastic shopping bags adrift in the sea.

Inspired by the art of sculptor Louise Paramor who creates large humourous and colourful sculptures from industrial hard-plastic waste Schwertsik collected piles of refuse and inspected them through her camera lens. She examined PET bottles, takeaway containers and plastic bags, the plastics that conglomerate during everyday life and are then discarded.

Louise Paramor at her exhibition at Glen Eira Gallery

Paramor and artist Roman Signer have heightened her awareness of thing-power and animism through their work. Signer inanimates objects as if they had human properties to participate and experiences events.

Wanting to examine the living space that she claims for herself in relation to the waste she produces, Cynthia perceives that landfill implements the idea that we can get rid of our rubbish by hiding it under the carpet. Her art practice started in the field of painting but subsequently included performance and the digital image. With these techniques, she focuses on visual explorations in various manifestations of everyday usage plastics.


Food for thought

Schwertsik considered the works of both Jane Bennett who invents the term "material recalcitrance", a phrase to describe the resistance in materiality to replicate ideas, and Gay Hawkins and Emily Potter, authors of Waste Matter, Potatoes, Thing-Power and Biosociality, who remark: there is a tension between the utopia of living in a world where there is no waste and dystopia of imagining the world drowning in obsolete "affluenza". Potter and Hawkins identify the underlying problem, which is the activity of the junk that is not considered. Bennetts particular focus is on urban waste and the potential of rejected matter to invade the carefully contained sanctuary of domestic comfort. What we wash down the drain in privacy and stuff into the bin to become invisible could suddenly be publically reappearing. Bennett and Hawkins have developed the thesis of a force that is in things, otherwise called “thing-power”.

As an artist, the stubbornness and resistance of materials reflects the constant struggle in the studio. Here Cynthia converted thoughts into matter and made them operate in the physical world. Garbage does not necessarily stay put, it blows away, or may start to smell, among other occurrences. Curiosity and the intention to raise her awareness of the choices she makes in her daily life, were driving forces throughout this project. Tim Inglot, in Being Alive describes the human experience of being in the world, as being wrapped in material soup.

Her project started with the notion that this soup is growing thicker. The word landfill produces a vision in front of her inner eye: the bulk of all the plastic she had ever used washing up on Adelaide beaches. She pretended that garbage truck drivers were on strike for a month, and then assembled the resultant collection of plastics by origin and date and put under pressure to form clusters. This procedure imitates the future integration of plastic into the sediment of the earth.


Discovering the Beauty

Looking for inspiration for painting, she created three dimensional lumps, but feeling unsatisfied with her results, she stacked the plastic objects against a window, and then discovered the potential of composing colours and shapes with the use of backlight and recorded the performance of piling trash and arranging bags on video.

As she started working with plastic waste, her perception shifted between disgust and fascination, and she decided to treat plastic as the landscape that we live in. Her work activates the plastic residue that builds up between shopping and eating and creates a view through the kitchen window into an anthropocentric world. A world we now have to share with the matter which we have invented for convenience, the plastics that do not decay. She wanted to highlight human dimension of denial, the way we can distort the real for what we want to see. In this jumble, she found the visual language she had been searching for. The close up through the camera revealed a sense of landscape.

To use a window as the platform for her work was initially an aesthetic decision, but the implied critic on environmental issues was ever present. The daylight transformed the garbage to a magically coloured set. Her scenic view was obscured, replaced by an accumulation of junk. She watched the manifestation of the thick soup of materials through the camera lens, and as the window slowly filled with plastics she saw the beauty. The fragments became colourful abstractions, records of the stacked plastic mess. The next step, to eliminate the background scenery was influenced by Roman Signer's performative installations, upsetting the familiar through the medium of surprise. For many years Roman Signer's explosive art has been an inspiration: he can turn accidents into art. The viewer is stunned with a great sense of humour. There was something to learn from Signer's use of familiar objects and situations of the everyday commodity. The artist, as the human factor is included as just one element in the chain reaction.

Kiste-Explosion, 1995 Roman Signer

Cynthia’s use of material is borrowed from Paramor’s dialogue of reclaiming the waste and modelling perfect representations of the contemporary world. Recycling the found plastic objects into amazing artwork forces us to look at our junk with new eyes. She decided though that she didn’t want to clean it up, recycle of prettify it, the plastic is what it is.

The aim was not for the plastic to have an experience, the idea was to find a way to turn her collections of waste material into paintings, to change discarded junk into objects of interaction and find a way to create art without enlarging her environmental footprint. Her intention was to find a visual language that would allow the denied and discarded artefacts to be accepted into the living room. She wanted her art to speak about the Anthropocene from the inside of our first world comfort and cast a view on our daily contribution to landfill.

Enjoying the Works

The resultant images of Cynthia’s work have now been scaled to domestic sized projections and prints on paper. Her emphasis on a diffused watercolour characteristic is haptic and sensual, and contrary to a documentation of landfill. She quotes American environmentalist David Brower: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” as part of the inspiration for her artwork. Her works now hang in homes and public walls, silently reflecting the daily routine of consumption.

Cynthia Schwertsik currently resides in the Adelaide hills with her partner and two children. She has a diverse practice spanning painting, drawing, sculpture, performance and photography. Her artwork graces the walls of galleries in Johannesburg, Vienna and Berlin, and she has previously been artist in residence at Cleland Wildlife Park.

Like what you see? Perhaps you’d like to learn a little of Cynthia’s techniques? Learn about technique, colour, texture and balance and learn how to analyse what you are most attracted to which in turn is then a basis for your artwork. At ArtLogic studio we hold regular classes and we invite you to come and express your creativity and develop your technique in a fun and creative environment.

As Adelaide’s premier art consultants, Art Logic has an extensive collection of over 1500 pieces of amazing artwork from exciting and experienced artists such as Cynthia available for purchase and for rent.

Our artwork ranges from absolutely stunning acrylics and watercolours on canvas to quirky sculptures in bronze, aluminium and stainless steel, unique kiln formed glass pieces and digital prints. Contemporary and modern, we are sure to be able to find the perfect piece to suit your need, whether it is something created from a pile of old junk such as Cynthia’s masterpieces, or the most detailed and intricate paintings or drawings.