Staff pick: Sacrifice + Bliss: Aurora Robson

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From the September 9, 2012 edition

By its own design, Franklin Park Conservatory is currently strewn with trash. It hangs from the ceiling of the Grand Atrium, creeps up a corner of the gallery space, and collects in outdoor spaces and several of the facility’s climate zones.

For “Sacrifice + Bliss,” the facility commissioned Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Aurora Robson to incorporate her plastic debris-based works into the conservatory’s interior and exterior landscape.

It’s the artist’s first collaboration with a conservatory, she said, adding, “I hope it’s not my last. You never know what the universe will throw at you.”

In addition to a gallery full of delicately inked collages, small hanging sculptures and an impromptu wall installation of cardboard food packaging cut into floral shapes, examples of Robson’s handiwork are found in the Pacific Island Water Garden and the Desert Biome. In the outdoor sculpture garden, morning glories and squash blossoms have partially overgrown Robson’s “Landmines,” small, dense orbs of black-tinted refuse.

A new work hanging over the Himalayan Biome, “The Quality of Mercy,” was made on site with help from a handful of CCAD students, and constructed from 1,000 plastic bottles collected from local roads and waterways by the conservancy non-profit Friends of the Lower Olentangy, or FLOW. It glows with translucent layers of airbrushed watercolor and, at night, with a wash of LED light.

Each work is striking for its balance of delicate forms and durable material, and for Robson’s ability to create a sense of beauty from her chosen material while maintaining recognizable signs of its consumer-waste origins.

Beyond the visual wow factor, Robson’s work is extraordinary for her efforts to consider the ecological impact of all aspects of her art making, and to bring an element of transformation into every level of her process.

Much of the artist’s work is inspired by childhood nightmares and a resolution she came to in adulthood: “Why not take a nightmare landscape and make it beautiful?”

Robson’s partnership with FLOW is part of a new initiative in which part of the proceeds from works created with trash collected by charities will benefit those charities, and she soon hopes to launch Project Vortex, which would connect artists to coastal organizations that collect washed-up debris.

With “Aphro,” hanging in the Rainforest Biome, Robson explores a growing interest in industrial plastic cast-offs. As the artist noted with enthusiasm, with each of the plastic syrup jugs used for it, she’s eliminated up to 50 water bottles’ worth of plastic waste.

Photos by Tessa Berg