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Article: Aurora Robson: Environmental Artist Working with Waste Plastic

Aurora Robson art

Aurora Robson: Environmental Artist Working with Waste Plastic

Aurora Robson is an inspirational artist who uses her unique works of sculpture, installation, painting and collage to create thought-provoking pieces that spread awareness about the importance of being environmentally conscious. Focusing on plastic debris at its core, Aurora reminds us all to tend responsibly for our planet's future!

Aurora Robson

How would you describe your story?

It really has been a dramatic series of intense scary experiences squished right up against incredible strokes of good fortune. Even now, I am in a precarious and frightening situation working on a high pressure, high profile, groundbreaking project that has been riddled with suffering, heartbreak, anxiety, humility, vulnerability, and a dash of embarrassment, but also coupled with new knowledge, love, cause for celebration, good fortune, gratitude, glory and even moments of bliss.

That is my story I guess — I think some would say that I fall in love and cry too easily - but to love, to laugh, to cry, to feel, these are all part of being a human, which is a miraculous thing in and of itself. I am endlessly curious about and happy to be able to explore the range of emotions we can feel, especially when it comes to exploring and expanding our capacity to love as a species. 

What led you to choose to work as a multimedia artist? How did that develop into you working with plastic waste?

Both natural and cultural objects fascinate me. I’m inspired by forms and patterns in nature and amused by the ephemera of human nature. I’m curious about the things we leave behind, the traces of our lives and choices.

After working for a few years as a professional metal welder, I was no longer able to pursue that kind of work [due to a back injury]. This evolved into welding with a light weight, free, translucent and very problematic material that is everywhere and causing harm by virtue of its presence and obsolescence. Working with it and playing with it is a form of service.

I always think of art as a reflection of a series of decisions and I try to make decisions that are worthy of expressing and sharing. Using objects that already exist in the world as my raw material for sculpture adds a layer to that work that makes the work less insular and more socially relevant.

Aurora Robson art


What message are you trying to translate through your art?

I think my message is simple and personal: Listen to and trust  yourself, look around at what is happening, be present, be accountable, be kind, be careful, be caring, be active, be honest, and please join me in decreasing the suffering in the world in whatever ways you can. 

At this point now that it is widely known that we are only able to recycle less than 9% of plastic globally - it seems to me that a simplistic focused approach might be helpful to tackling this multifaceted problem. Such an abysmal statistic should clarify the distinct purpose and intent behind my work - it is an appalling testimony to the need for more creative responsibility. It means any little thing we do to reduce our footprints and sequester the material so it doesn’t continue to wreak havoc is vital. 

What are your influences when it comes to creating your art? 

I am prone to staring at things and become transfixed by the art of people living and dead who have done groundbreaking work. Louise Bourgeois influenced me tremendously. Her power to transform traumatic and negative personal experiences into objects of sublime, powerful and abject beauty resonates deeply with me. Right up til when she died in 2010, she opened up her home in NYC on Sundays at 3 pm to young artists who were welcomed to visit her, meet her and show her their work if they wished. I had the incredible experience of doing that. It was surreal to sit next to her in the back room of her home full of ephemera from her expansive career.

Other major influences of mine are equally generous and mostly women — spirits like Judy Pfaff, Lee Bontecou, Petah Coyne, Luoise Nevelson, Yayoi Kusama, Ruth Asawa, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Tara Donovan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Heffernan, Portia Munson, Sarah Sze and Liza Lou just to name a few. Many people outside of the fine art world, authors, scientists, and philosophers have been incredibly inspirational to me like, Joseph Campbell, Yuval Noah Harari, Ryan Holiday, Rebecca Solnit, Margaret Atwood, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh - the list goes on. I find so much inspiration in terms of people, their thoughts and actions, but my greatest inspiration and muse always comes back to observing and honouring the beauty and diversity in nature.

Aurora Robson art


We would love to get to know a bit more about your project, Project Vortex. How would you best describe this project? What were your aims and intentions in starting this? Are there any plans to carry this forward? 

In 2009,  I realised that I was up against a big monster of a problem in exploring plastic debris as a medium. There is inherent bias towards it, which makes it particularly challenging.

Project Vortex was the result of reflecting on many years of working with this material and starting to feel depressed and hopeless myself as well as wanting to find people who I could relate to. I started seeking out artists, designers and architects who were also actively engaged in this issue to see if they would like to be featured on the site so that I could share their work.

I will resume focusing on Project Vortex this summer and fall. One exciting plan for Project Vortex is an upcoming exhibition of Project Vortex artists at the School of Visual Arts Gallery in NYC called Reversing Trajectories — It has been postponed until the Fall of 2024 so that the Director, Francis Di Tomasso and I can design it to be a traveling exhibition. 

Given the waste plastic projects that are currently viewable on your website- Interceptors, Trash Tetris 101, and 9% Workshop- What was your creative thought process in the creation of these projects? Is there something in particular that links them all together (other than the medium)? 

These projects evolved naturally from my studio practice. When I am asked to share processes I’ve developed in my studio or my approaches to art making I am inspired to stretch my natural tendencies in the studio to make space for people who have not been focusing on transforming debris into art to the degree that I have. I love creating ways to share in the satisfaction and challenge of making art out of plastic debris and am always trying to improve on this so that it can be as easy and enjoyable as possible.  

Aurora Robson art


What do you see yourself working with in the coming years? Would you consider using other waste products in your art?

In the event that plastic debris becomes a thing of the past in my lifetime, I will pivot my practice and begin again experimenting with something else. But at this point, there is no end in sight to my experimentation with this material. I will remain focused on plastic debris because it is such a problem and has so much potential for art and design applications wherein it can do no harm. 

I am working on a piece right now that is made from large format 3d printed post industrial plastic debris that will result in dozens of outdoor sculptures for a public park, that is about the incredible diversity of mushrooms (did you know that there are a number of species of mushroom that ingest plastic and can then be eaten as a healthy form of protein?). Once that piece is complete, I will be finishing work for a solo exhibition at the Brattleboro Museum in Vermont. The exhibition is interactive and will present works from each of the techniques I have developed for working with plastic debris over the past 20+ years. After that, I am doing another piece using 3d printing with plastic debris that is all about oysters. I am playing with my friends in nature who are on the same team.

There are so many more traditional materials that I appreciate in and of themselves for sculpture that I would love to experiment with (marble, wood, glass, metal) but working in any extractive way at this point in history seems irresponsible and inappropriate to me. My dedication only increases over time as the problem grows. I am resolutely rooted in my stance. 

View Aurora Robson’s Art at:

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