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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Katrin Spranger

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Katrin Spranger is a London-based visual artist working on the intersection of sculpture, jewellery, and performance. Her work explores dystopian narratives that engage with environmental issues including the depletion of natural resources.

14 February 2023

Katrin Spranger is a visual artist working on the intersection of sculpture, jewellery, and performance. Her work explores dystopian narratives that engage with environmental issues including the depletion of natural resources.

Her practice has included the development of crude oil into jewellery that melts on the body as well as the 3D-printing of honey into edible art. Katrin’s Aquatopia collection adopts a critical view of our freshwater supply, its increasing demand, and pollution. Her water sculptures reappropriate plumbing parts and laboratory-found objects to reimagine familiar drinking vessels, water storage, and a bathtub. Made from copper and lab glass stained with limescale, the Aquatopia objects are produced via electroforming: a process in which a layer of copper is deposited on a conductive surface.

Creating performances and sculpture, Katrin explores the aesthetics of decay and metamorphosis. Her work comprises permanent and fluid, deteriorative elements, which challenge societal norms of beauty. Although her work stretches across a variety of different media, it can all be characterized as bold, expressive, and dark.

Katrin is an associate artist at Climate Museum UK, an experimental museum that curates and gathers responses to the Earth crisis.

'1.8' Project

The project called ‘1.8’ aims to spread awareness about fossil fuel depletion as well as the effect of oil spills on the environment. For this project I made a feathered jewellery body piece that was worn by a dancer for a filmed performance, which gave the impression of a desperate seabird being caught in an oil spill. You can read more about the project and watch the video of the performance on my website here:

Can you introduce yourself to our readers? Who's Katrin Spranger, and how would you describe yourself as an artist?

I’m a multidisciplinary visual artist based in London. My practice explores dystopian narratives, particularly the depletion of natural resources. I aim to bring awareness to environmental issues through my work. 

What is your artistic background? And how did you develop into the artist you are today?

I have always wanted to pursue a creative career. My parents encouraged me to gain a vocational skill before going to university and I chose jewellery, because it is a creative field with plenty of apprenticeship opportunities in Germany, where I grew up. A thorough, 3 years goldsmithing apprenticeship provided me with traditional making skills which later came in handy at Konstfack University in Stockholm, Sweden, where I studied Jewellery and Metal Design. The conceptual approach to jewellery as an art form, which was encouraged at the university, helped me think ‘outside of the box’ and work with a wider range of materials. As a result, I started creating bigger-scale metal sculptures and absolutely loved the challenge of working with different equipment and machinery. The course went way beyond designing ‘wearable’ jewellery, and looking back, it was then that I developed my multi-media approach to making. Over the years I further progressed from being a jeweller to being a multidisciplinary artist, which was the most accurate ‘label’ I can find for my practice. 

'1.8' by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Katrin Spranger.

As a visual artist, you work at the intersection of sculpture, jewellery, and performance. Why did you choose these mediums? 

My practice is idea-based; I start from a concept and then I choose a suitable form for the project, without the constraints of any particular medium. I choose a form that best suits the meaning behind the project. It can be anything from a jewellery piece to an interactive, performative sculpture. Despite my training in jewellery, I enjoyed working with all sorts of media at university and beyond. I explored natural materials such as crude oil, water and honey which are more suited to sculpture as opposed to jewellery making… Additionally, my interest in dance and interactive art feeds into my work, introducing the performative element to some of my projects. It is fair to say that I find sticking to one medium limiting. Finding new media and new materials to work with keeps my practice exciting and unpredictable. 

Most of your work explores the “dystopian narratives that engage with environmental issues”. When did you start pursuing this subject? What motivated you?

The environmental issues were first brought to my attention during my Master's studies in Stockholm, where I attended a seminar on materials we may be using for jewellery making in the future. At the moment we think of precious metals and gemstones as the most valuable materials for jewellery making, mainly due to their scarcity. This led me to speculate that any natural resources that become depleted in the future, might hold similar value as gold or diamonds. I imagined a scenario in which we would use the last drops of oil to create precious jewellery pieces. Similarly, we would store precious fresh water in various containers, which inspired my Aquatopia collection. My assumptions about how our planet will look like in the future are quite dark.

'1.8' by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Katrin Spranger.

Aquatopia Bath by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Will Cooper.

One of your most recent projects called ‘1.8’ aims to spread awareness about fossil fuel depletion and the effect of oil spills on the environment. How did this project begin? How did you reach the final visual composition?

I started from researching our daily consumption of oil, which turned out to be 1.8 litres per capita, as well as the disastrous effects of oil spillages from tankers, offshore platforms and wells; in particular their deadly effect on aquatic life and seabirds. I see birds smothered in oil as a strong symbol of environmental destruction.

I had made jewellery pieces from oil in the past and experimented with solidifying it and then letting it melt with the help of body temperature. For 1.8 I wanted to work with the material in its liquid, slippery form, which is difficult to control. I decided to create a jewellery piece for a character resembling a seabird covered in crude oil that spilled into the ocean. In the performance filmed for this project, a dancer who wears the piece strokes its feathered surface until oil spills from under the wings. Gradually the movements become more melancholic and frightful, and eventually uncontrolled and deadly.

Your water sculptures “reappropriate plumbing parts and laboratory-found objects”. Where did these ideas come from? What can you tell us about the creative process behind these sculptures? 

Looking at fresh water as one of our most precious natural resources, the issue is less a depletion threat, but rather a pollution problem and water accessibility in some parts of the world. The initial idea for the collection was to convey a non-religious holiness and veneration of water as a life-giving, purifying resource. By experimenting with limescale patina on glass, and using a rusty, half-dissolved enamelled bathtub, I played with the aged aesthetic and notions of decay, deterioration and absence. Using both plumbing parts and lab glass felt like a natural choice to fit the subject matters of water storage and science. Additionally, to evoke memento mori, I used skulls and bones alongside many dried plants, which remind us of our dependency on water to create and sustain life, and to resemble organic decay, perishing and merging back into the ground after death. Pieces were produced using the electroforming technique, a process in which a layer of copper was deposited on the surface of the organic materials.  

The Aqautopia fountain by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Will Cooper.

You are an associate artist at Climate Museum UK. What can you tell us about this partnership?

I chose to join the Climate Museum UK as an associate because I admire their work and use of art to engage with communities and spread environmental awareness. Such outreach is key to changing people’s attitudes and bringing about change. I am fairly new to the team, but I am looking forward to my upcoming series of workshops organised in partnership with the Climate Museum UK. 

There is an emergence of eco artists and artists working on the subject of ecological and social justice. How do you position your practice within this “movement”?

To me, giving my creative career a meaningful purpose has been a way to combine my creative efforts with my personal interests and values. This keeps my work authentic, as I believe the art created by an artist often, if not always, is a reflection of who they are. I am not surprised by the increased emergence of eco artists, in line with society’s increased attention to the climate crisis and social justice. Art has a unique way of touching human’s spirit, so I am hopeful about the effects this ‘movement’ has on spreading awareness and bringing change.    

Aqautopia Vessel by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Sylvian Deleu.

What is the most challenging part of being an artist? How do you overcome it? 

During my studies, no one ever told me that business skills are equally as important for an artist’s success as producing excellent, exciting work. Unfortunately, the style and aesthetic of my work does not fit into an easily ‘sellable’, commercial realm. I prefer not to compromise my vision to fit the mainstream art world. Being a respected jewellery teacher with 20+ years of making experience allowed me to establish K2 Academy of Contemporary Jewellery in London 6 years ago with a fellow Jeweller Kelvin Birk. Luckily, I have a true passion for sharing knowledge so working as a teacher alongside my own artistic career has been a good way to overcome the challenges of making a living as an artist. 

Lastly, what message would you like to leave your readers?

I would like to encourage the readers to participate in climate-focused workshops and activities. Such projects are a great way to rethink the way we live and consume while having a fun, creative experience. You can sign up for Climate Museum’s newsletter to be notified about the upcoming activities: 

See more of Spranger's work here

Cover Image:

'1.8' performace by Katrin Spranger. Image courtesy of Katrin Spranger.

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