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In conversation: Jasmine Pradissitto

In this interview, we explore the practice of Jasmine Pradissitto, a polymath artist, who pioneers innovative mediums like Noxorb ceramics to address urban pollution. Inspired by Darwin and Dr. Iain McGilchrist, Pradissitto envisions a 'Symbiocene,' urging for a holistic adaptation to our post-industrial world. With a scientist's optimism and artistic vision, she advocates for art as a catalyst for understanding and sustainable change.

Joana Alarcão

18 de março de 2024

Can you start by giving us an overview of your practice and what led you to explore the intersection of art, science, and environmental activism?

The driving forces behind my exploration of art, science, and nature stem from lifelong curiosity, awe, and the discernment of patterns. My journey began over three decades ago when I pursued a Ph.D. in physics while secretly studying art at Goldsmiths in the evening. Back then, I wasn't familiar with the concepts of being a ‘polymath’ or a ‘Renaissance thinker’, but I now find joy in the growing recognition of intuitive and holistic thinking over purely rational approaches; approaches which I believe have contributed to many of the complex challenges of the 21st century.

I've always seen science and art as complementary rather than separate disciplines ( a separation which started in the 16th century), each employing different tools to explore the world. This perspective is rooted in history; science and art were not divided until the Enlightenment. As I transitioned into roles as an education consultant and creativity academic to supplement my art practise, my awareness shifted towards nature, preferring to use the term "nature" rather than "environment" to avoid implying separateness.

Breathe above Camden Peoples Theatre Euston Town public art by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery and photographer Jeff Moore

Engaging with diverse audiences—from children and teachers to businesses and parents—has underscored the profound impact of education, imagination, and the arts in shaping perception and perspective. Rather than identifying solely as an environmentalist, I now embrace the concept of being a "holobiont," a phrase coined by writer Greg Albrecht, recognizing the interconnectedness of all living beings on our planet.

Ultimately, I've come to understand that our connection to something becomes most profound when it becomes personal to us.

Sculpture by Jasmine Pradissitto
Corpus Callosum by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

In your statement, you mentioned, “the real problem of humanity is we have Palaeolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and God-like technology.” Can you elaborate on this line of thought?

This is a quote from another polymath and renowned biologist and naturalist EO Wilson, who sadly died in 2021. His whole world view changed as a child when he lost sight in one eye. As a result, his world attention became focused on the small things that were local to him like butterflies and ants. In this quote, he is expressing a concern about the incongruity between the emotional, institutional, and technological aspects of human society. Wilson suggests that this misalignment poses a significant problem for humanity. The gap between our emotional understanding, the frameworks we use to organize society, and our technological prowess creates a situation that is inherently unstable and potentially dangerous. He warns that this incongruence is reaching a critical point, where the consequences of our actions—shaped by these disparate elements—are becoming increasingly severe and threatening the overall well-being of humanity and the planet. It is a philosophy I have found central to my work alongside the writings of Dr Iain McGilchrist on his theories of left-hand dominance in the brain creating similar incongruencies. 

Your practice delves into various mediums, from painting and sculpture to plant printing and technology. Do materials hold different meanings within your practice?

Experimentation and innovation unsurprisingly are at the heart of my creative process. Once I acquire a new skill, I enjoy exploring how it can be adapted or applied in novel ways. This exploration is now guided more by intuition than a predetermined narrative. I trust that the narrative will naturally emerge as I spend time in the studio, as I am intimately involved in the creation. What does surprise me is the discovery that regardless of the material I work with, it seems to follow a common narrative: the quest to find innovative ways to express things often taken for granted. Whether it's the impact of plastic pollution on the environment, the potential of ceramics to absorb pollution, or the revelation that plants can be used for printing, each material presents an opportunity for creative expression. I've also found that limitations can fuel creativity. The less resource I have, the more inventive I become. This belief underscores my commitment to finding sustainable practices in the use of all materials. 

Sculpture by Jasmine Pradissitto
Future ancestor by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

What can you tell us about the submitted work, Future Ancestor? What inspired this piece, and what do you hope viewers take away from it?

That we can enhance our legacy for future generations by recognizing our interconnectedness with nature and acknowledging that our survival, despite technological progress, hinges on the basic necessities of air, water, food, and community. This sentiment is epitomized in this piece created in 2023, featuring my son's face cast in ceramic Noxorb, adorned with orchids, and donning a child's WW2 gas mask, all set upon a piece of fallen wood from a lightning-struck tree.

The genesis of this artwork traces back to 2016 when my son experienced a severe asthma attack, prompting me to question the aspect of clean air. Shortly thereafter, I received a commission to create my first public sculpture along Euston Road, notorious for its high pollution levels due to nitrogen dioxide emissions from combustion. This pollutant not only exacerbates respiratory issues like asthma but also hampers environmental processes such as pollination and growth.

Material by Jasmine Pradissitto
NOx pollution being absorbed by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

Remarkably, just 3 kilograms of the ceramic material used in my artwork can purify an average-sized room for five decades. This realization underscores the importance of learning from our past experiences and leveraging that knowledge to become better stewards of the future. 


You mentioned being the only artist licensed to use Noxorb, a ceramic material that absorbs nitrogen dioxide pollution. Could you elaborate on how you incorporate this material into your artwork and its significance in addressing environmental issues?

I use it in conjunction with found natural objects to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all things and that we have all the innovations we need; we just need collective action, imagination and the support and legislation necessary to scale things. 


You delve into the concept of the "Symbiocene" and the importance of adaptation to a post-industrial world. How do you envision this new era, and how does your artwork contribute to its realization?

A new era will require a new language and one that is more hopeful than the Human-centric ‘Anthropocene’. I believe that ‘shame’ can create obstacles to behavioural change but if we can start to look at things with a renewed sense of awe and agency purely as individuals we can also transform collectively and planetarily. The idea of finding the interconnected, the symbiosis, is everywhere in nature and indeed throughout our bodies. Darwin wrote extensively about it in his theory on the ‘evolutionary arms race’. 

 Sculpture by Jasmine Pradissitto
Lilly by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

How do you translate the concept of attention and the need for increased attentiveness to our natural environment into visual art? 

By using materials found on my many walks; materials that are subject to the seasons and the circularity of time. I can only find them by paying holistic attention; sounds, smells, texture to them and not the focussed attention that we have for example with our phones. It’s the same attention we have when interacting with art and in particular sculpture in which we become part of the experience. 

You've exhibited your work at prestigious events such as the Green Art Expo in Abu Dhabi and COP26. How do you approach showcasing your art in these spaces, particularly within the context of climate activism and global environmental discussions?

I realised a while ago that it was only by being able to hold space for polarity that we can find commonality. It is central to much of the thinking in Physics. One of the reasons I was inspired to exhibit as part of Green Art Expo. 

I don’t consider myself an ‘activist’ as such as we cannot alter behaviours unless we can hold space for perspectives entirely different to our own or reframe it through the visual arts. Art bypasses language and data and is one of our oldest forms of communication. I also enjoy finding new interpretations for my materials for example using gold leaf and Islamic patterns for some of the work I made for the UAE or a light projection for COP when we had limited budgets.  


Sculpture by Jasmine Pradissitto
Chaos the Goddess of The Sky by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals as an artist working at the intersection of art, science, and environmental advocacy? How do you see your work evolving in the future?

I am thrilled that I have just started work as an artist in residence at The London Museum of Water and Steam. At one point, during the Industrial Revolution it had the largest steam engine in the world which pumped water around south London. It has closed the circle for me in that I can create a series of site-specific works reinterpreting the Industrial Revolution in terms of renewable energy and water conservation. This is about process and making but in terms of new ways of thinking, I am also a Fellow now at the first Interdisciplinary University in London LIS and am advising on various boards on the power of creative and divergent thinking on finding commonalities and new ways of solving old problems. 

What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?

To remember it is small everyday acts of awe and creativity that create the large shifts in paradigms. And these are found in everything from art to nature to small acts of kindness or collective experiences. 

Find more about the artist here.

Cover image

Rewilding by Jasmine Pradissitto. Image courtesy of Jasmine Pradissitto

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The real problem of humanity is we have Palaeolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and God-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.'
E.O. Wilson, Naturalist.
Attention is the greatest form of generosity and yet there is more competition for it now than ever before in human history. I believe that our ability to be attentive, to each other and our natural environment which historically is what allowed our very evolution is one of the keys to a new Symbiocene.

A polymath, my critical practice spans painting, printing with plants, sculpture using natural found materials, and technology and I am the only artist in the world licensed to use Noxorb, a newly developed ceramic material that absorbs nitrogen dioxide (NOx) pollution from the air; the brown by-product of combustion and intensive agriculture that we see on city skylines. It’s the pollution that also stops pollinating insects find their flowers or indeed for those flowers to be able to grow at all.

My work is increasingly less about the narrative of our past planetary ingressions, and more about our adaptation to a post-industrial, anthropogenic world. Inspired by Darwin’s 1862 ‘evolutionary arms race’ between an unusual orchid and moth as well the writings of Dr Iain McGilchrist on the theory of the different types of attention for each brain hemisphere. I seek a new meta modernist era: the ‘Symbiocene’ a time during which we realise that one species can only survive because of the existence of the other. We cannot undo the endless chicken bones and fossilised plastic layer, the remnants of our endless growth and industrialisation, but we can learn new behaviours and turn history into a better future for our 'ancestors'.

Without a drastic global change in the next 7 years, the achievements we have enjoyed through our inventiveness, will become futile if we can no longer sustain the most basic of our human needs such as clean air and water. Art and the creative industries can help to not simply change our perspectives, but also provide a visual language. by-passing data, of the systems that connect all the 'communities' inherent to the functioning of our biosphere. Artists are the original systems thinkers.

This duality, the ability to hold two opposing ideas without judgement, something inherent to my training as a scientist, is one of the fundamental reasons I am still so optimistic that we can evolve to realise that we are related to every living and inert thing on our home planet.


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