Hero photograph
Becky Cameron's MFA exhibition
Photo by Pam McKinlay

Immersed in the environment

Becky Cameron —

Art both expresses and influences how we see the natural world around us.

The dominant Western culture affects how we see nature, landscape and wilderness and hence how these are portrayed in art. Western art forms have evolved at same time as structures and behaviours of the Anthropocene, the period of human impact on the environment. These conceptualisations assume a separation between humans and the non-human, objectifying what is non-human. Māori and other indigenous ways of thought and practice provide an example of more ecological thinking. 

Climate change and biodiversity loss are therefore cultural as much as scientific events. Art can play a role in exploring and debating the current climate crisis, helping to rewrite old ways of thinking and feeling about nature. Becky Cameron examined and critiqued the perceptions of nature and ecology for her Master of Fine Art, with a focus on two case studies: Mt Aspiring National Park, where Becky has worked as seasonal ranger, and the suburban garden. Observational drawing provided a slow and thoughtful way of engaging with the world, paying careful attention to what is here and now, to produce multiple responses to Becky's own lived experience and interconnectedness with the surrounding environment. 

"As well as the five species of grasses, I’ve identified another 44 species of plant growing [in unmowed lawn] so far. These are largely introduced species, but there is also a tiny native orchid and some tussocks coming through."

Acknowledging the agency of the non-human world, and the coexistence of humans within a web of relationships, can lead to art that is ecological. Gardening and art can both be seen as ways of exploring interactions and effects between humans and other things in a conscious way. Through a combination of reflection and action in art and in gardening, Becky reveals and critiques ideas so that the intellectual and political labour of the artworks can help us move towards a new understanding of the place of people in the world. 

"As I work and draw in the garden, I discover and also become part of some of the stories of the non-human elements of my garden. And maybe the artwork-viewer interaction can share and add to these stories."