Queen’s BFA grad talks environmentally conscious art practices

Artist Claudia Zilstra proves found objects don’t have a best-before date

Share My Skin by Claudia Zilstra.
Supplied by Claudia Zilstra

BFA graduate Claudia Zilstra’s artistic work shows that environmental consciousness is applicable to every discipline.

During her undergraduate degree, when learning about different types of sculptures artists make, Zilstra said the type that prioritizes the use of found materials was the kind that stood out to her.

Around Ontario Hall, leftover materials from past students’ projects lingered, and current students were encouraged to use them. Whether extra paper, paint, or plaster, the leftover materials were constantly available resources for the art students.

These surroundings impacted the course of Zilstra’s work.

In her recent piece Share My Skin (2018) Zilstra used plaster, makeup, and found objects to create a work depicting her personal experience with eczema.

For this piece, Zilstra found a second-hand table on Kijiji, makeup she already owned, used plaster provided to her by the school, and a reusable wax material to cover her hands while forming the plaster casts.

“I found the table from someone on Kijiji rather than going out and buying a new, cheap table, then I also got the plates that the hands are sitting on from Value Village. So there’s a little more of that found product [use] again, and I painted them white,” said Zilstra.

Zilstra tried to be environmentally conscious of the products she used in her work—a practice she aims to continue.

“I find that a lot of products out there that are being sold as something brand-new or fast fashion end up being something that’s not really worthwhile, and something that’s not of quality for my own art practice,” she explained.

That’s where the decision to buy a used table came into play. Zilstra was choosing between an Ikea table and the second-hand table available online.

“The quality level in comparison to one that I could buy second-hand was drastic, so I decided to go with a found object instead […] one that I’m going to end up using again,” said Zilstra.

Share My Skin represents Zilstra’s difficulties living with a skin condition affecting her life on a daily basis. Her eczema is caused by common allergens, and Zilstra says the physical ailment takes a toll on her mental health. It’s always been hard for her to convey that to those who don’t have the skin condition.

“It’s a hard thing to translate to people, just because some people aren’t quite as empathetic or can’t quite picture it as much, and understand what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes,” said Zilstra. “Especially when it comes to having a physical ailment, a mental ailment, or both.”

Share My Skin is meant to start a conversation about the ways people deal with the individual experiences they would rather keep hidden.

Zilstra wanted to show that what you show on the outside might not translate to what you’re feeling inside. This is seen through the use of makeup that covers the hand cast in the middle of the table.

“The hand I have in the very center is a little bit more on the calm side. It’s almost like a full acceptance of what’s going on around, whether it be calm or chaotic. I painted that [cast] hand fully with makeup […] in an attempt to cover my skin tone,” said Zilstra.

Covering her own skin tone was key to representing her struggles with accepting her skin condition. She wanted to approach the idea that sometimes people use makeup or other means of coverage to mask their more painful experiences.

Despite the challenges Zilstra has faced to come to terms with her life-long physical ailment, she uses it to inspire her art, and she uses her art to inspire others.

Her work sends a dual-message of self-acceptance and environmental awareness. Zilstra’s work proves that there’s a place in every discipline for more environmental consciousness and minimizing waste.


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