Readings From The Barometer Of Life - MODUS


An important aspect of the Readings from The Barometer of Life project was an underlying objective to produce the works with a sustainable and environmentally responsible approach.
With that in mind, it was critical that these large artworks were largely founded on recycled materials and 'eco-friendly' principles. Working on brand new canvases would be untenable - as the production of traditional cotton canvas places an unnecessarily large strain on the environment - both in terms of cotton production and treatment (‘It can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton' WWF), use of wood from non-FSC approved forests, and the associated carbon footprint of transport from overseas storage warehouses.
Having established that each piece would take the form of a vertical 'tapestry', this concept was delivered to British fashion designer Paul Smith, who immediately recognised the intention; generously donating a capsule collection of varying fabrics; including tests samples, offcuts and a variety of printed materials, which were all ostensibly waste items. From these superfluous textiles the eight artworks would evolve.
As part of their Path To Sustainability, the Paul Smith company has adopted a sun symbol as a means to identify its drive towards promoting a more environment conscious fashion industry. Each product bearing this emblem has been produced using a minimum of 50% sustainable materials.
As the artworks came into being, and a variety of production methods were explored, it became apparent that an intrinsic 'rule of thumb' was affecting each subsequent production stage - Mottainai.
In February 2005 Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai visited Japan. Here she discovered an ancient ethos whose colloquial translation read as 'What a waste!'
Mottainai stems from the words mottai (勿体), which suggests an air of importance or sanctity, and nai (無い), meaning a lack of something. Subsequently, Maathai proposed that the Japanese expression "mottainai" be used as the keyword for environmental conservation throughout the world, and the MOTTAINAI Campaign began, with its resolute mantra - Reuse Reduce Recycle.
Fifteen years on, the words of Wangari Maathai - "The environment is not an issue for tomorrow. The environment is an everyday... issue." [heard on the project film] has been closely echoed by environmental activist Greta Thunberg, with her 'house on fire' speech.
Building on that conviction, Readings from The Barometer of Life was made using a number of Mottainai-centric measures (including adoption of Boro stitching techniques) - All the base materials were upcycled and reinterpreted; many of the appliances used were vintage as opposed to new; 90% of the work was conducted under daylight; all stitching was made by hand; the solvent-transfer technique adopted from Robert Rauschenberg was applied using water-based solutions (alongside similarly water-based paint pigment); the collage paperwork were primarily found materials.

All artwork, text and images © James Straffon 2020.