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Online Professional Practice Seminar: Public Sculpture, Gender, and Sustainability, 19 September 2023

19 September 2023
Convened by Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre

A person stands on a ladder leaning against a structure made of hay, plaster, and clay.
Hand Earth Gesture Return, credit Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre

With a particular focus on notions of sustainability, considering not just environmental concerns but of artistic practice, this seminar invited a group of UK based artists and curators who identify as female or non-binary to address the issues of sustainability and gender inequality in large scale public art projects. We were particularly interested in the artists’ voice and how to platform this within the wider dialogue. We wanted to consider the value of public art to (British) society, at the same time as its impact on the world in which we live, and where it must go from here to create a sustainable future for both, therefore via this seminar we hope to encourage sharing of collaborative and collective solutions including speculative or nascent models that may foster a sustainable future for public sculpture.

Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre met with four curators and six Women and Non-Binary artists who have all engaged in producing large scale outdoor public sculptures. Each shared their ideas and experiences and then a chaired conversation was held.

Key takeaways were: environmental concerns should not overpower the idea, that thinking environmentally is a privilege if you are struggling to get work made. All present felt that financial precarity was a primary concern; that career stability, pay, working conditions, class, mental health often not catered for or considered in public art commissioning; adding environment before these seemed unfair. The idea that artists have a responsibility to be activists or accountable was felt to be unreasonable and unsustainable for the artists present.

There was extensive conversation around material choices and strategies including identifying circular economies. Concern was raised around biennale formats / curators /commissioners not looking locally for talent that in turn promotes waste and pressure to travel. Storage is an issue, along with building in a plan for the aftercare and afterlife of the sculpture. It was universally suggested that these should always be discussed and solved pre-production.