That’s enough! A mosaic about consumption and climate change

Climate change is fundamentally a consumption problem. This is not some sweeping, hyperbolic statement. Everything we consume—the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the phones in our pockets, the cars we drive, even the art on our walls—has a carbon footprint associated with its production and use (some larger than others, naturally). There’s a tendency to put the climate blame squarely on the shoulders of business and industry, but we, as individual consumers, are not blameless. Far from it. Recently, scientists quantified the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stemming from household consumption: our consumption of stuff is responsible for 60% of global GHG emissions.

I’m going to tackle this issue in two parts mosaics: one on how much we consume (the current mosaic) and the second on what we consume.

"(More than) Enough"

“(More than) Enough” (2016), 12″ x 16″ — one single piece of limestone

This mosaic is about the notion of having enough—an odd notion in today’s society, where we want more, want it now, and want it for cheap. Recognizing that you have enough and actively consuming less is a very straightforward and simple way of reducing your impact on the climate (and the environment writ large); it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that ten pairs of jeans have a bigger footprint than four. To put this idea into practice, I decided to make a mosaic out of one single rock. I would chop it up and use every last scrap of it. It would be enough. Ironically, however, I quickly realized that I had more than enough.

The rock, pre-chopping.

The rock, pre-chopping.

First cut. Just look at those layers!

First cut. Just look at those layers!

I had already prepared my substrate before chopping the rock, which I didn’t think would be problematic because I’m normally quite good at estimating how much material I’ll need to complete a project. My chosen rock seemed about right to me. But when I looked at my pile of tesserae after chopping up the whole rock, I knew I had too much. It’s funny, but this realization immediately called to mind my almost weekly thought upon opening our organics box: “That will never be enough food for the week!” And yet it always is. And it is often too much.

All chopped and sorted by size and shape (and please note that I also saved the wee flakes and dust)

All chopped and sorted by size and shape (and please note that I also saved the wee flakes and dust)

Upon realizing that I had too much, I started to brainstorm options for dealing with the excess. The obvious solution would have been to just use a bigger substrate. Tempting, yes, but totally contrary to the point of the mosaic. If you have too much stuff, you don’t buy a bigger house (or rent a storage locker or three). I thought about displaying the leftovers in some sort of container or making a second mosaic that was more random and looked more like a scrap heap, but discarded these options because it didn’t feel like the best use of the material. It felt somewhat akin to throwing it out. It felt disrespectful. I think it was R (brilliant co-conspirator that she is) who suggested giving it away. Perfect! When you have too much, you don’t let it go to waste, you share the bounty. You let someone else get use and enjoyment out of it.

So I roped in two fellow mosaicists: Kelley Knickerbocker and Rachel Sager. Both were easy choices: Kelley because she’s already been working on pieces using other artist’s scraps / leftovers, and Rachel not only because of rocks and foraging, but also because of her mosaic where she used nothing but one kind of stone (I liked that sort-of parallel). I’ll be sending them care packages with my leftovers, with instructions to simply enjoy the rock and put it to good use. And fear not, I will report back on what they make from it—I’m eager to see what they create with this special rock that has oh-so-much character. It is definitely in good and capable hands with them. (If anyone’s wondering, here are the stats on this little experiment: Starting weight of rock = 1.7 kg. Weight of leftovers = 0.65 kg. So I definitely had MUCH more than I needed.)

Kelley Knickerbocker's "Stockpile" - made using discards from a floor installation by Erin Pankratz

Kelley Knickerbocker’s “Stockpile” – made using discards from a floor installation by Erin Pankratz

Rachel Sager's "Driveway" - made using only gravel from her driveway

Rachel Sager’s “Driveway” – made using only gravel from her driveway

I like to think that I am a relatively conscious consumer. I don’t buy blindly just for sport. No retail therapy here. I also like to think that in my mosaic work I do my best to honour the materials and not waste them. And yet this mosaic taught me so much. More than anything, I learned to really and truly appreciate the material and all its quirks. Because I was determined to use every last speck of the rock, there was no discarding of mis-cut tesserae, or shaving off a corner so it would be ‘just so’. I consciously tried to keep my cutting to a minimum. Barely any was done at the beginning (after the initial breakdown with the hammer and hardie), though I did have to resort to the nippers a bit more frequently near the end as my choices became more limited and I backed myself into corner after corner.

more than enough - detail 2

A close-up shot so you can appreciate this crazy amazing rock

I revelled in this chance to loosen up a bit, to let the imperfections (the rock’s and mine) shine, since this is typically one of the things I struggle with most in mosaic. Strike marks on the most interesting side of the tesserae? Welcome! Accidentally get a tiny spot of thinset on the top of a piece? That’s ok! Piece not lining up quite as it should with its neighbour? So be it, and hey, that’s just an opportunity to fill the gap with the little flakes that I otherwise wouldn’t know what to do with. Also, because I sensed I would have extra rock, I made an effort to not use all the choicest pieces. I wanted Kelley and Rachel to get some good bits too.

Strike marks and thinset and imperfections, oh my!

Strike marks and thinset and imperfections, oh my!

This was such a great exercise in restraint, mindfulness, strategy, and creativity. I am so eager to do it again that I think I will turn this into a little side series. The “Enough” series. I can see it becoming to me something akin to what Karen Dimit‘s “NYC Water Towers” collection is to her. She returns to the water tower as a subject over and over again to experiment with new techniques and materials. In my case, I can see myself returning to this exercise as a way of refocusing myself and returning to first principles. Because one rock is most definitely enough, and often more than enough. A good lesson for both mosaic and life.

more than enough - detail 1

Just one more shot of some of those bands of colour

Putting all the little flakes to use! (And the rock dust got mixed into the thinset that I used to finish the edges.)

Putting all the little flakes to use! (And the rock dust got mixed into the thinset that I used to finish the edges.)

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6 Responses to That’s enough! A mosaic about consumption and climate change

  1. lynnadamo May 12, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant. You’ve given me a mantra— enough! It will help me when yearning for some other material that is presently in packing boxes deep in the garage after the move. What is already in front of me can be enough for now! (and a reminder to appreciate the exquisiteness of only one rock!)

    • Julie Sperling May 12, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

      Thanks Lynn! I wish you luck in embracing the “enough” mantra — both difficult and freeing at the same time!

  2. Helen Miles Mosaics May 14, 2016 at 3:10 am #

    I love it (naturally) and the philosophy behind it. I find it much easier to avoid the muliple pairs of jeans and to be careful about food waste than I am on mosaic supplies – the vast quantities of unused stones, ceramic and glass is really something I need to address and thank you for this excellent and motivational blog post to get me started. :)

    • Julie Sperling May 14, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

      Oh, I hear you, Helen! My studio usually gets a special exemption from the “enough” rule :-) (Though today I am determined to do a good purge and reorganization of it.)

  3. Margaret Shaw February 19, 2017 at 1:41 am #

    Exquisite – you have a beautiful eye for line. I find studying your work and composition such an education. As well, the accompanying blog is a great way to get into you rationale.

    • Julie Sperling February 19, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks so much! I’m always glad when people get something out of the pairing of art + blog!

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