Interview by Jeanelle Folkes - Curated by T.K. Mills - Images Provided by @StreetArtDesire & @Ksenia_Salion
Ksenia Salion is a Brooklyn-based environmental installation artivist, who uses her art to educate the masses about what is happening in our oceans and why we need to act now to save them. I have to admit, I’m not as well versed in climate change as I thought I was, especially when it comes to the climate change effects on marine life. Recently, I had the chance to visit her installation Oceans (currently available at VR World NYC) and speak with Ksenia about her work and love for the sea.
Jeanelle Folkes: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Ksenia Salion: When I was around 9 years old. I was drawing all the time and my mom enrolled me into an art school.
Folkes: What inspired you to become an art activist?
Salion: I just don't think as an artist, I have the luxury to just spread paint on canvas. We are in an emergency, and I think the role of the artists is to talk about it! To start a revolution! Change the world! To look around you and talk about current issues!
I really, really believe it's important that all artists start to get more involved with the social, racial and climate justice movements (which essentially, are one movement, really). This includes galleries too. If I go on a gallery walk in NYC, show after show, it's all the same thing over and over. This art doesn't mean anything, it doesn't have any message.
Very few shows actually have some kind of meaningful concept. Even installations that look like they have some kind of message, it's so vague and confusing, even after reading the statement, it's not really influencing the onlooker. This really bothers me.
Why do galleries keep showing completely meaningless art? And I know that at the same time people are not educated. Every time I talk to people a lot of them don't understand what's happening on our planet. Why not have an installation, where people can actually learn about climate, or at least spark a thought in the audience's head. Why not do an installation about dying coral reefs? And show how the fossil fuel industry is cooking our planet and profit elite, while oceans are becoming unlivable.
Unlivable ocean=unlivable planet! Not a lot of people know that. There is a lot of misunderstanding. For example, most of the people think that trees produce all of the oxygen. But this is incorrect! Most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean! Phytoplankton - the source of half earth's oxygen - gets little credit!
My main goal as an artist is to take complex ideas and make it simple for the main audience to absorb. I use the latest visual trends to make it Instagrammable and attractive. I can't really show a scientific article during my installation to people, they will lose interest and move on. But I can show a very effective visual of coral reefs and just have one sentence/statement saying that all coral reefs will disappear within 20 years. Or display my installation inspired by Bioluminescence, all glowing blue, with fiber optic and blue led lights, and project messages: "I want to live in the world with clean oceans," "I want to breathe clean air" on the art.
Folkes: With so many moving parts within the realm of climate change, what inspires you to focus your work on oceans?
Salion: I grew up by the Black Sea, in the Southern part of Russia. The sea means a lot to me. I fell in love with the sea at a very early age. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of Jacques Cousteau documentaries about the Ocean. He was a French marine biologist and explorer. He was one of the first people to talk about the importance of ocean sustainability and protection. I was completely fascinated by the underwater world he showed in his films!
When I was graduating from my art college, for my senior project, I did an exhibition project about the work of Jacques Cousteau. When I started working on my climate installation a little bit over a year ago, I again decided to focus on the ocean. I want other people to be aware how important the ocean is.
Folkes: Do you focus your work more on environmental pollution, aquatic life, climate change, or all of the above?
Salion: I think all of the above. I'm working on two new installations right now. One idea is to create visuals and use marine animals that are about to become extinct and make people aware of that, to encourage action on endangered species protection.
Another idea I'm working on is to raise awareness about plastic pollution, consumer culture, fossil fuel industry, and how it's all tied together and how it's affecting marine life. The equivalent of one garbage truck's load of plastic enters our ocean every minute! It affects humans too! Did you know that we ingest a credit card's worth of microplastic per week on average? Plastic is not just an environmental problem but also a human health problem. So yes, two ideas, both are part of climate change we created and unsustainable lifestyles we live.
Folkes: What do you feel is the most pressing issue stemming from climate change today?
Salion: The most pressing issue is timing and urgency. Scientists have calculated that we have about 7 years left, before we reach the tipping point. We just don't have time to lead our old lifestyles!
Folkes: What message do you hope to convey to the world through your art?
Salion: First - Climate change is REAL. It's a fact. There should not be any doubt. Second, it's urgent, we have to act now. Third, the ocean is really beautiful, marine life is stunning, and it's our responsibility to protect it!
Folkes: As an artist, do you have a favorite medium that you like to work with?
Salion: Yes, lately, it's more digital - projection mapping and typography. I do use glow in the dark inks, and UV lights, fiber-optics to show the glowing bioluminescent world. I'm also fascinated by reflective materials, using reflective fabric and reflective spray paint, inspired by some marine color shifting creatures. Lately I’ve started using recycled plastics and cardboard boxes and do direct projections on them.
Folkes: What has been your favorite piece or installation thus far?
Salion: My favorite installation was the one I did last year, at Dimensions in Miami, during art Basel week. It was curated by @dimensionsexp and @fathom_magazine. I really enjoyed meeting other artists and musicians that were exhibiting there, and I loved exploring the Miami art scene during my time there.
Folkes: Do you have any new installations coming up?
Salion I have an installation at VR World in New York right now. I don't have anything coming up. I chose a very tough topic, not a lot of places are willing to show climate art! But I'm not going to give up my concept!
Check out Ksenia Salion’s Oceans installation at VR World NYC. She uses a beautiful combination of projected video, text, and light, along with fiber optics inspired by bioluminescence. Watching the projections and light gives a peaceful feeling, similar to that of being in an undisturbed ocean. Facts and snippets of the effects of climate change bring you back to the harsh reality that the oceans are in trouble. I encourage all to see and experience her installation, you may learn something that you don’t know and get inspired to make lifestyle changes for the benefit of clean oceans.