Artist grad creates Environment mosaic for Reunion 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

a mosaicIf you were one of the members of the Environment community who turned out for our amazing reunion events you may have noticed alum Julie Sperling, who is the City of Kitchener Artist in Residence, and a SERS alum is leading the mosaic activity.

As a mosaicist, Sperling exists at the intersection of art, environment, science, and policy. Since 2014, she has been creating an ongoing series of mosaics about climate change. Most recently, she has been using her art to engage the public on climate action through her role as Artist in Residence for the City of Kitchener. She firmly believes in the important role that artists have to play as advocates, activists, and change-makers. 

Jean HammeringWith a table set up in Environment 3, many participated in putting together a unique mosaic that will adorn a wall in the new EV2 student space. Dean Jean even got in on the fun by hammering a few pieces of stone. 

Passers-by will appreciate the use of different materials in creating a mosaic that expresses the diverse systems that make make up environments, as well as a few Easter eggs just for grads like Sperling. Can you spot it below?


We caught up with Sperling for an artist Q&A on the project:

How does it feel to be back at ERS? Which year did you graduate again?

I graduated from my undergrad in 2004 and my Masters in 2006. It's definitely interesting to be back at FES again. The faculty has grown and changed so much in the decade since I was here, in a good way. I'm so impressed by its vision and how it has evolved over the years. It definitely makes me very proud to be an alumna.

Your relationship to your personal environment informs your work: How did your time on UW campus influence you?

My time at UW was fundamental to how I approach my art. I clearly remember taking a class in my 2nd semester that was entirely devoted to climate change, which put that issue firmly on my radar and gave me a glimpse into its breadth and complexity. Little did I know then that it would become the central focus of my art all these years later. In addition, my time in ERS and then in Geography prepared me to be able to talk confidently and clearly about the issues I portray in my art. As an artist-advocate, this is key; creating the art is important, of course, but the explanations that I offer alongside the mosaics make it even more nuanced and effective. 

As a visual artist, why choose mosaics as a medium? 

I actually fell into mosaic quite randomly. I think it chose me more than I chose it, and it was mosaic that made me a visual artist. What keeps me coming back to this particular medium is that it is so hands-on and full of possibilities. Mosaic, for me, is an adventure: I can never quite predict what a stone will contain, how it will break, what it will feel like, what sort of personality it will have. And when I'm building my mosaics, I feel like an explorer, like I am simultaneously creating and discovering new geographies and topographies, never 100% sure where the next piece will take me. 

On top of that, mosaic offers so many possibilities for talking about a subject like climate change, in particular because of its materiality. I can use things like coal and shale to talk about something like black carbon or to serve as a proxy for the fossil fuel industry, or I can use shells that I subjected to my own home ocean acidification simulation, or actual bones from my meat-eating friends to talk about how eating less meat is an effective way to lower your own carbon footprint. I could go on and on! 

Any advice for Environment students who either make, or enjoy visual art?

The first thing that springs to mind is to never underestimate the power of art (visual or otherwise) to engage people, inspire them, and move them to action. Art can touch people in ways that just straight facts and logic can't. For those who want to advocate through art, I would offer the following: once you find your voice and your issue(s), advocate in the way that makes sense to you. I do it one way, but it's not the only way. There are so many different people we're trying to reach on so many issues that different approaches will resonate with different people. We need all kinds of artist-advocates. 

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