Digital Carnival 2019: Wynne Palmer x Nicole Dextras Interview
Nicole Dextras: Art for Nature
Digital Carnival 2019: FIRE’s featured artist — Nicole Dextras, is an award-winning environmental artist working in a multitude of media. Her art practice is based in social interventions and environmental installation, rooting nature to our everyday urban experience. She is a graduate of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she was a sessional instructor from 2003 to 2013. Dextras has exhibited her work in Canada, the US and in Asia, and has been featured in publications including Junkies Magazine, The Royal Academy of Arts Magazine and Art and Ecology Now.
With Digital Carnival being less than a month away, Cinevolution is just as eager as you are to meet the artists and learn more about their projects! That’s why in this article, we invite featured artist Nicole Dextras to sit down with our guest curator Wynne Palmer and share her stories.
Why did she become an environmental artist? What are some challenges in her art process? How does her art practise evolve? And what are her hopes for Digital Carnival? Find out what Nicole Dextras has to say and get a glimpse into her art world.
Wynne Palmer x Nicole Dextras
Q: How did you become an environmental artist and what are your reasons for pursuing this area of art practice?
A: I have become an environmental artist because I believe it to be the most pressing issue of our time. Environmental art grew out of the Land Art movement which introduced the concept of working with nature and pushing beyond the traditional gallery walls. My particular interest is in the cultural aspect of how we commodify nature and in this respect, I believe art can be of influence.
Q: Highlight some aspects of your background which have influenced the choices you have made in your career.
A: My decision to attend Emily Carr in Vancouver was influential on many levels. For one, the abundance and variety of nature found here has allowed me to pursue my experimentation with organic materials. I also found the west coast very supportive of non-traditional areas of art making. I don’t think I would have followed this path had I stayed in Ontario.
Q: Your work incorporates a vast array of skill sets particular to hand made, slow movement and recycled fashion industries. What is the most challenging part of using natural materials in your work?
A: The most challenging aspect is time. It takes time to research and develop hand skills and new techniques. I like to learn basic techniques such as weaving, and then experiment them with obscure materials such as Willow bark or Yucca plant fibres. And since I have to either plant or forage for my materials, I have to plan my projects seasonally. Then the ephemeral nature of my work limits my exhibition opportunities.
Q: In the life and death cycle of plants incorporated in your works, how has this been a challenge in the creation process and in the documentation your work?
A: The challenge is to make the piece and then document it before it falls apart, which can take anywhere from a few days to weeks. I have over time learned to use the hardiest plants first and incorporate the more delicate ones at the last minute. If I am creating a garment then it is a mad rush to also find a performer and a location as well as designing and executing the piece.
Q: How does your work comment on environmental issues we are facing today, both locally and globally?
A: Globally, my work looks at our disconnection with nature and my concept is that by wearing nature maybe we can heal that gap. Everyone will tell you they love nature but in reality, it is only a backdrop for our activities or a resource to be exploited. Coming to terms with this colonial mind-set is the underlining issue that is preventing us from moving forward on ecological solutions. With this in mind, it becomes crucial to develop local resources and community.
Q: The mechanism of narration and storytelling to convey your work appears to be an integral component. Could you describe how media technology has affected your storytelling?
A: I am a visual storyteller. I was a photographer when I began my work with natural materials and it seemed like an easy segue into documenting the finished works and the process of decay. I eventually moved into film because the “money shot” format of photography did not allow me to incorporate the elaborate back stories for my characters or the layers of meaning, textures, and colours that drive the narrative. Moving from analogue photography to digital media has allowed me a greater range to express a more complex point of view.
Q: Do you feel that digital technology has a place in your practice? How do you plan to incorporate it in future projects?
A: I incorporate digital technology in my practice not only as a means of storytelling and documentation, but also as a means to express a mood or a sensation. With film, I am looking to create a visceral experience and I hope to expand that in the future by creating sensorial installations with images, textures and public engagement.
Q: Your work is often presented with public displays or interventions. How is direct public dialogue and education important to the dissemination of your work and why?
A: As an environmental artist, I am challenged by making work that speaks to issues without preaching. My interest in taking art to the streets is based on wanting to break free of the secure and insular walls of the artworld and engage with all people. This is the basis of The Dystopian Museum series, which is central to my work for Digital Carnival 2019: FIRE.
The premise is based on a dystopian world where the present exclusive structure of the artworld has collapsed and artists and curators are forced to wheel their creations out onto the streets. I am that artist, looking to foster inclusivity and contact with everyday people, because when I talk to them I am always amazed at how engaged they can be.
Q: What goals are you hoping to accomplish with Digital Carnival 2019: FIRE and what is next for you?
A: Digital Carnival 2019: FIRE is giving me the opportunity to create the first iteration of the Dystopian Museum and the experience is allowing me to learn about and incorporate different technologies into my art practice. It will be the first time for me to mix photography, video, performance and natural materials in one exhibition.
My future projects include the shoot of my next film, Chronos, which will be the second short film in my trilogy of environmental disaster survivors and I have been invited to exhibit my work at the Huston Museum of Contemporary Craft, where I will develop the next character in the series based on floods.
Note: Many thanks to our guest curator Wynne Palmer and featured artist Nicole Dextras for taking the time to conduct the interview. Dextras’s work The Dystopian Museum will be featured as the centrepiece of Digital Carnival 2019: FIRE. Don’t miss the chance to meet Dextras in person and discuss your thoughts on art, nature, and technology.