Even if we may not like it, technology has shaped how we relate to the world. So, too, has it created new ways to curate and create art.
Australian artist Leonie Barton didn’t begin her ventures into art because of technology — but the rise of platforms like Instagram have allowed her approach to ephemeral art to flourish. Beginning in 2014, Barton began her “One A Day” project; the objective was, and continues to be, simple: Each day during a walk, she would commit no more than 50 minutes to creating art out of whatever objects she found outside. Sticks, petals, stones, and bits of plastic — the last the only object Barton does not leave behind — are organized into a work of art that may be blown away the moment that she walks away. But that isn’t the point: It’s the act of creation that matters. While the project itself doesn’t require technology, the ability to share posts preserves Barton’s designs and arrangements long after they cease to exist.
The Establishment spoke with Barton about her inspirations and designs, and what she hopes to accomplish with the “One A Day” project.
Sarah Galo: How did you get into art?
Leonie Barton: It sounds cliched but I didn’t really get into “art.” Making things or drawing was something I just did a lot of as a child. I grew up on a river and spent the majority of the time outside roaming and exploring. I was always off on my own, collecting things to construct with, back at my secret places.
Drawing was what I did when I had to be inside. My brother and sisters had all left home by the time I was 5, so these were all good ways to occupy myself. When we eventually moved to the city, the drawing stayed but the natural elements went. I did art at school until I left at 16. Art school wasn’t on the agenda; life happened, and I went into the film industry. I didn’t really revisit art until my kids were at school and I opened an art supplies store so I could have studio space. I sold the shop in 2010 because I could never paint there. I just kept dabbling from then on, but after I visited Namibia in 2012, with only a sketchbook and a camera for company, I was determined to stop talking about it and really commit to being an artist everyday. I set about finding a day job that would allow me to paint for a living and that could sustain any creative projects I wanted to take up, like the last year of ephemeral art.
Sarah: What is the “One a Day” Project?
Leonie: Like any other “One a Day” [venture], it is a daily commitment to a task for 365 days. In my case, it meant going outside, regardless of the weather, my location, or circumstances, and creating an ephemeral art work, using only the materials I found in the moment, usually from the ground, using no tools or props, and then leaving it behind for others to experience. I documented each day by photograph and posted it to social media as confirmation I had completed the daily task.
Sarah: What are the inspirations behind your project?
Leonie: Shona Wilson was the artist who suggested I take up the challenge. I came across Shona’s project three weeks before she finished her year, and I just loved the concept of creating some art that would give me permission to engage in some of my favorite pastimes. I could go for a wander outside; I could forage and collect, which I had always done anyway; and I could do it all no matter where I was in the world, and it didn’t require me to buy any art supplies or be a consumer. I sent Shona a message to tell her how much I had enjoyed her project and that I was sorry to have come across it so late. She said I should go and do my own. So I did. I resisted going back through her project, as well as ignoring other people’s suggestions to look at other great ephemeral artists before her. I did that when I was painting and it put me off. This time, I was determined in this instance to find my own voice and style.
Sarah: Do you have an ultimate goal with the project? Do you see it as an extension of a personal philosophy?
Leonie: I had very different goals at the start of this project compared to the goals I have now.
In the beginning, it was about completing a task and making a commitment, as I had never been a great finisher before. It was about not having to make “perfect” artwork, as in my other creative pursuits, where I got way too hung up on it being perfect. I’m quite anal. Because this way of working can be so random because of what you find, it can’t be perfect. Done is way better than perfect. It was about taking some time out for me: away from my job, my house, my kids, my own life.
But now, it’s become very much about reminding myself and other people to slow down and pay attention to what’s around them. Nothing is going to last, so we need to notice it now. Everything perishes in the end, even us. I think we are becoming more and more detached from our immediate surroundings and too busy looking at screens. I want to remind viewers that there’s beauty in the world that needs protecting; we are, after all, just caretakers of it, for the generations to come.
Sarah: On your Instagram, you mention that the works are left behind after being photographed, except for plastics. Could you explain your approach?
Leonie: Initially I left the works behind so I could teach myself not to be attached to them, thus helping with the “perfect” hang up. Then, because I was always constructing them in public spaces, it became about surprising somebody if they came across it, if it hadn’t already blown away or washed away by the tide. Then I started posting a wide context shot to give a perspective on materials and scale of the artwork. This then led to people using it as a location finder, and a group of people used it as a location hint, so they could find them on their own walks.
As I live in a small community, it became a game of hide and seek. I still get messages from people that ask about the art pieces. I can’t leave the plastic ones behind, I have to bin them (so I tend not to do those anymore). I’m a keen follower of the “Take 3 for the Sea” project, where everyone is encouraged to pick up three pieces of rubbish when they go to the beach or other waterway. But it’s a good principle to have every time you are outside generally. I really like that my artwork eventually returns to where it has come from or been created with.
Sarah: What is the relationship between technology and art?
Leonie: Technology makes art available to most people, it inspires them, discourages them, educates them, provokes and challenges them.
Sarah: Do you think this project would have been possible before social media?
Leonie: Would I have been prompted to do it? Perhaps not at the time that it happened, because that was where I came across Shona. But because I was starting to investigate the art world, perhaps I would have come across masters. But before social media, nobody would have ever known it existed. In fact, I would have just continued on doing it as I always have done, not photographing it, and without thinking the world might like to take a look at it.
Sarah: Do you have any advice for young women who are hoping to enter the art world?
Leonie: If you can help it, don’t look toward anyone else’s work. Find your own voice. Be prepared to create hundreds of artworks to be happy with one. Practice practice practice. More than likely, nobody is coming to discover you. If you believe in your work, you must go out and show the world.
All images: instagram.com/leoniebarton