Artist Robyn Woolston talks to Edge Hill University about the ideas behind her art installation on campus that is igniting curiosity among students.
Why the Vegas sign?
In some respects it’s very similar to its American counterpart but it’s also very different. Habitus (2013) marries the exuberance and expansion of a time in history when entertainment, consumption and institutional lending were booming at an exponential rate. During the post-war period of the 1950’s Las Vegas became a magnet for Hollywood stars and entertainment legends alike with hundreds of millions of dollars circulating through the bars, restaurants and casinos. The design aesthetic of the time mirrors this history with futuristic curves, cantilevered structures, bright colours and ostentatious embellishments like starbursts. I have referenced this illustrious history within the work so as to act as direct contrast to our current environmental situation.
In your version the words are different. Why is that?
Indeed, the place name is replaced by a geological period. Currently we are living within the Holocene period (a time that covers all human experience as well as all written history) yet a group of scholars had been convened by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) to decide whether or not we have entered a new geological period, namely the Anthropocene Era. Some say this new period began with the Industrial Revolution but some say it began earlier on, yet those that agree concede that our behaviors are having irreversible impacts upon the planet. Basically from radioactive traces within soil structures to species decline and glacial melt the effect we are having upon the earth is leaving permanent markers or signs within the history of the world.
Why use signs? What do they mean?
Because, very simply, we are surrounded by ‘information’ in the form of signs that post us in the right direction. They inform us of what’s happening, where to go and what to avoid. They direct you across the country and into the right traffic lane when you’re joining a motorway as well as indicating that it’s safe to cross the road. Well, signs like this appear in nature too, colour signifies if a mushroom is poisonous, flowers are bright to attract pollinators and species decline can be physically and literally ‘seen’ in terms of the effects felt across food chains for example.
Habitus includes 12 factual signs showing geological eras, epochs and eons that cover millions of years. You can see words like Silurian, Devonian and Jurassic on signposts within the trees on the campus at Edge Hill. When you look more closely you realise they are all pointing towards the Vegas style sign. This is because they all detail histories prior to the one we are currently living in. Everything that has gone before has lead us to our current situation. Whether financial or environmental the state of the world has been built upon layer upon layer of knowledge, rather like sedimentary rock. And so, the centre-point of the installation is the sign that reads in gushing words: ‘Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era’. A time unlike no other where we are faced with signs that reflect back to us the care with which we choose to look after the planet…or not.