Issue 1: Research Festival

Analysis of the current situation of environmental artists

This essay proposes the idea of recycling creative consciousness, combined with the creation of personal environmental art works for analysis.


Reading relevant historical documents and visiting and investigating actual cases can be summarized into the following three aspects: The first is recycling. It should be explained here that the main body of recycling is recyclable items, including the daily waste of the audience. It is required to enhance the recyclable awareness of the broader group through carefully selecting materials and exploring other uses behind the essential characteristics of daily necessities. The second is the creation of art. In several projects produced by the MA course, the connection between art design and environmental science creates a new way to engage the audience in the challenge. This expression in contemporary art aims to allow the audience to use their imagination, creativity and innovation to respond to environmental issues and concerns through art. This is, at the same time, a process of shaping popular art culture, in which famous artists are asked to reflect on the nature and meaning of the material materials they use and to achieve a new sense of social responsibility through the content of their works of art. In a word, the purpose of art is to make the design of environmental activity culture to guide the public on how to collect and produce art materials with the awareness of recycling; The third is the overall cultural significance of recyclable art, that is, the overall goal is to apply recyclable awareness to the production of artistic works. Artistic works can use recycled, naturally available materials, non-toxic solvents and paints, etc., to extend the remaining functional life of waste and relieve the pressure on the public waste disposal system.


At present, there are many environmental problems in the world. As time passes, we become more aware of how these issues affect the environment and our health. First, waste in the land, water and air is complicated because polluting waste is produced faster than it can be managed and disposed of. In other words, we produce more waste than we eliminate. This continuous production of contaminated waste may occur in different environments and take different forms. When we talk about plastic, glass, paper or organic waste, we talk about solid waste. Instead, some gases or emissions affect the air we breathe, which come from the combustion of various chemical compounds, whether automobiles or industry. In other words, we are surrounded by pollution, and all our consumables and manufacturers pollute. Therefore, the search for solutions to this problem begins with the realization that it will require changes in the processes by which most products are produced and in many of our daily behaviours. Globally, the significance of the new era of contemporary art has become a magic weapon to support many cultural activities. Therefore, it has become an inevitable requirement of The Times to combine environmental protection activities with contemporary art creation and take a path that adapts to contemporary artists’ creations. As a graduate student studying sculpture, I aim to strengthen my relevance with the public from the perspective of materials and sustainable development based on environmental issues in daily life.

However, the problems we see in China and London, where I live now, are pretty different from the relevant research we have done. We face various prominent pollution problems with environmental characteristics, and there are still significant gaps in contemporary art, especially in combining materials with environmental protection issues. This is another important reason for choosing this direction as the research object.

Chapter 1: Development of art practice combined with environmental protection activities

The harmonious interaction between human society and nature is a prerequisite for sustainable development. The involvement of art practice in environmental protection activities is conducive to environmental protection, the harmony between society and the natural environment, and the sustainable development of society and the economy. In a sense, natural resources are scarce. Environmental protection activities based on waste recycling are conducive to the more effective use and rational allocation of scarce resources and relieve the pressure on public social resources.

1.1 Research purpose and significance

The research purpose of this topic is to take the existing environmental problems in China as the basis, combine the development trend of world environmental art, compare the differences in contemporary art practices under the framework of multiple types of environmental issues in the global scope, and try to find a contemporary art practice methodology that can not only enhance the public’s sense of participation in environmental issues but also effectively solve the demands of environmental issues.

Environmental issues have become a hot topic that people often talk about in today’s world, and they have also received extensive attention and research in design and art. Compared with the continuous improvement of the requirements of some developed countries for green environmental protection, most Chinese people do not show a high altitude, and only a handful of people put green environmental protection into practice. However, in recent years, when artists are willing to introduce all kinds of environmental protection materials into their artistic creations, environmental protection is no longer just a slogan or a simple artistic concept. It is a new artistic fashion, taste and attitude. When environmental protection activities based on this current background are combined with contemporary art practice as a living medium with discussion and heat, they will undoubtedly have a long and vigorous potential for development. This is also the social reasons and practical significance of this topic.

1.2 Artistic Creation based on natural Materials (Artist Case)

Richard Long — Land Art Richard Long was a famous British sculptor and earth art practitioner. His works are inspired by natural materials such as water, rocks and clay. Long created works that tracked his movement through space, as shown in his seminal work A Line Made by Walking (1967).

A line made by walking by Richard Long(1967)

This primordial atmosphere runs through his art, even works designed for gallery or museum environments are made of basic materials such as stone, sticks, and earth. Using natural materials in a primordial environment allows his work to be recycled by nature. Long rejects the concept of art as a permanent object. By refusing to create durable or immortal structures, he expanded the range of acceptable sculptural materials and techniques. In addition, he supports a minimalist rearrangement of natural materials, using plain materials to create meaningful statements.

His respect for the authenticity of the materials natural state and the landscape led to work that emphasized the beauty of nature. His little gestures carry profound implications, suggesting a long history of humanity’s relationship with the environment. Whether it was his walking tracks and interventions in the landscape, or his reverence for the simple beauty of basic materials such as earth, branches and stone, he encouraged viewers to appreciate the direct, raw beauty of nature.

In expanding the definition of the sculpture, Long incorporates interdisciplinary elements of performance art, conceptual art and photography. Photography began as a means of recording his performance acts or temporary interventions in remote areas and has evolved into a carefully considered component of his work. Long insists that ‘although much of my work takes place in landscapes, the gallery is a conduit for bringing my work into the public domain’, hence the need to create a record for the viewer of a product or experience that can be shared with others. This is also why I am deeply attracted by Richard Long’s works. To be precise, I have investigated many works and artists about earth art in the past few years. Most of the works form a powerful force in the natural environment, and the strong visual contrast is caused by human intervention. However, it seems that it is not enough for me to complete such a work with a sense of natural power. Until I saw the series of natural material works of Richard Lang exhibited in the gallery, I realized that this seems to be a new strong contrast, and the traces of human intervention have been amplified again. I began to try to bring some natural objects into my studio, which grew in the natural environment and were used by me to discuss the social environment.

Bark Circle by Richard Long(1993)
Ornwall summer circle by Richard Long (1995)

1.3 Regional characteristics in environmental art

In the face of many contemporary art creations with environmental protection themes, many artists hastily apply the consistent logic of environmental protection thinking to various artistic works without considering the regional characteristics of environmental protection activities. The author believes that all the creation around environmental protection must respect the local environment and pollution characteristics. All artistic creations around this theme should take place within the pollution system or in a part of nature. It is essential to understand what exists in the local ecological pollution before associating with any audience group or conveying the underlying concept of the work to the social environment. This is the basis for establishing close links between environmental protection activities and audience groups.

For example, as shown in Figure 1-1 and Figure 1-2 , in FLOTAGE, an art project that explores the pollution of rivers in Chengdu, China, most of the recycled materials were collected and sorted at the same time when the author investigated the water quality of Jiang an River in Chengdu. When these collected materials are processed into new works of art, The current water supply will be directly fed back to the public in the form of artworks. Such as, due to the need for urban development, it is an inevitable trend for the same industry to be restrained in the same area of the city, so countless domestic waste, manufacturing products and other emissions, and even most of the pollution circle are becoming more and more orderly, regular and pollution categories are becoming more and more simplified. This virtually paved the way for developing ‘regional goals in formulating artists’ projects. Suppose other acts of environmental destruction, such as deforestation and burning, lead to the destruction of biodiversity in the biosphere. (Ghosh, Amitav,2016)In that case, artists need to speak through their works and use local resources and materials to imagine and create works of art driven by a sense of social responsibility(Yi Yin,2000).  It ultimately aims to appeal to a broader audience to look at deforestation, burning, and biodiversity.

In summary, any overall purpose should be based on improving our environment and the link between the disposal process of general household pollutants and polluting behaviours and the local population, both horizontally and vertically. Achieving these linkages will ensure more comprehensive audience connectivity, interaction, mobility and sharing of resources across borders. This real connectivity improvement enhances contemporary art practice’s regional cultural nature. Further, it enhances public attention to the polluted areas, and the pollution characteristics of the areas are revealed.

Figure 1-1
Figure 1-2

1.3 Flexible application of collection in environmental art creation

Ecosystems do not produce waste because one species’ waste is food for another. Moreover, the waste left over from artificial manufacturing is constantly recycled in the web of life. In order to be truly efficient, the materials we produce should also be regenerated before waste becomes polluted. We now think of everything humans produce as garbage or waste that is incinerated and ends up in landfills. The new question for designers/artists, manufacturers and businesses is: What do we do with this waste? If our materials are readily biodegradable, they can be returned to the environment through decomposition. If we want to imitate, we should think about the idea stage, how the work of art, its components and its output can be reused and recycled. These design considerations will determine the materials used, the way the structure of the work of art is assembled, how the work of art is adjusted over time, and how materials are reused once the work of art has reached the limits of its useful life and transmission effectiveness. In order to promote reuse, similar expressions in the form of installation art should be advocated. The complete work of art should be regarded as a structural component, and the connection between components should be flexible rather than completely fixed with special materials  (Rosalind E. Krauss, 1979). At the same time, the artwork components are modular so that the structure can be easily disassembled and redesigned for creation elsewhere. As shown in below image, the author has considered this point in the artwork BLOODY TAG project. Sustainable design is the main reason for creating the artwork in this way. It would be a disadvantage if the artwork continued to occupy a large amount of field space after completion, but the modular art components will significantly solve this problem. These integrated materials are also crucial because without collecting these materials, the artwork would remain just a project created by different people and could become a potential pollutant while exploring the issue of environmentally sustainable recycling. Unfortunately, many of today’s works of art about environmental protection can only be integrated through new materials purchased from the market. Of course, this is based on good intentions, similar to the fact that many environmentalists question the feasibility of replacing plastic straws with paper straws because it is not a significant development in environmental protection. It is more of a calculated trade-off. While manufacturing and design for recycling and reuse can alleviate the problem of waste deposition, we should combine organic waste (e.g. sewage, stormwater, wastewater, garbage, etc.) with inorganic waste. There is a very appropriate analogy between environmentally recyclable art and inorganic waste. Environmentally recyclable art is essentially a design that organically combines artificial and natural systems — ecosystems — while inorganic waste must also be integrated with its organic host — the human body. In this case, the integration of resources will enable our environmental brand culture and public awareness to achieve the ultimate goal: the comprehensive physical, systematic and temporal integration of our artificial and natural environment with the organic host of waste benignly and positively. Of course, there are still a lot of theoretical and technical problems to be solved in our recycling and creation process.

Bloody Tag by Poyu Shen(2020)

1.4 Research development status around the world

Environmental issues have always been the focus of the world’s art circles. However, there needs to be more in both the UK and the world when it comes to the research samples detailing artistic practices and environmental protection activities. As early as the 1970s, Papanek, a famous American design educator, advocated sustainable art to protect the environment. Starting from the same purpose, many environmental protection art creation theories are highly relevant. In 2007, the National Design Museum in New York held an exhibition called ‘Design for the Other 90%.’ This mainly shows how product design can help solve problems such as education, energy, water, health, sanitation, housing, and transportation(Elizabeth Grosz and E. A. Grosz. ,2011). It also showcases many excellent green designs and artistic creations, and the results are significant because they attract more people’s interest in social issues. However, in the final analysis, green design is more of a design theory directly affecting product design. It is a way to reduce the impact of products on the environment and promote the sustainable development of society. The more important purpose of integrating recyclable artistic creation consciousness into environmental protection activities is to explore how the recyclable artistic creation consciousness is shaped and how regional culture affects people’s behavioural consciousness.

Chapter 2: The artist’s personality consciousness into the environment creation

When an artist has a vivid and unique personalized image, he gets the chance to survive and develop. Similarly, with the development of environmental protection, the multi-dimensional concept of the artist’s personality has been involved, which has enhanced the strong charm of environmental protection activities in its field and can obtain clear recognition and high recognition from target groups.

2.1 Visual identity of environmental artists

The soul of personality is human. (Andrew Causey,2014)Similarly, personalized expression is also the premise to highlight the characteristics of artists. On a deeper level, artist personalities need to have long-term significance.(Zhang Dizhuang,Li Yongquan,2012) This is the mark of the artist. These characteristics should be reflected in the material selection, process application, colour selection, curatorial characteristics, etc. For example, different materials depend on specific materials that reflect visual and tactile sensitivity. The properties of the material are the same as the mechanical properties. The environmental properties of materials also determine their properties when they return to the environment. Therefore, material selection is a form of environmental protection and the key to developing environmental art. The selection of materials provides unlimited possibilities for the design of materials, from design to materials. In the eyes of the artist, the material is sensitive. Smooth materials represent beauty; glossy materials represent ancient beauty; soft materials have affinity and security. In addition, the design and use of managed waste materials reflect cultural attitudes and objectives towards environmental issues. Colour, including personality, can be considered particularly important in constructing artist characteristics, which is also the basis of environmental activity image recognition. Only with personalization can people extract and recognize complex background information quickly, creating powerful memories. At the moment, many environmental artists have minimal environmental activities related to vision and colour, and we must communicate to the public that our environmental art is compelling.

2.2 Communication elements are involved in the creation of environmental artists

In addition to strengthening the direct connection with visual personality, the intervention of artist personality consciousness in environmental creation must also combine the interaction process between environmental creation and audience with the ‘5W‘ communication theory from the perspective of communication and form a complete communication closed loop between environment, artist personality and audience through the communication energy attached by the audience. We must create artistic characteristics relevant to the emotional background of the audience. By doing so, we can improve the sustainable development of environmental art and expand the public’s environmental art thinking.

To explore the public emotional connection involved in environmental art, it is necessary to analyze different categories of audience groups and determine their environmental structure and pollution sources, especially those troubled by some environmental issues for a long time. Then we have to determine what more detailed and different types of contamination structures are in the area and what parts are susceptible to the general public. Finally, we must consider the relationship between the expected time investment and the possible social impact. Of course, this is a big project, requiring considerable ongoing and in-depth landing research, sometimes for months. Therefore, for example, the author designs to push environmental protection activity artworks on the personal website of Poi’s land every month (as shown in Figure 2-1, Figure 2-2, Figure 2-3), to attract wider attention under the premise of displaying these artworks. As artists, they should focus on achieving the goal of more conducive communication and efficient interaction of environmental art. At the same time, they should apply the same idea to many application scenarios to study and propose the potential problems behind pollution.

Taking some artists from all over the world as samples, there are five modes of artists’ involvement in environmental creation: passive mode, group mode, guided mode, active mode and compound mode, and the last one is the combination of all the above modes. This so-called environmental art practice requires us to focus on the polluted environment first. Then we can enter the passive mode, group mode, guiding mode, active mode and compound mode due to policies or different forms of activities and appeals. At the same time, we can adopt gradual strategies to influence and improve the wider audience group. However, meeting the expectations of the theme of environmental protection activities can not be achieved only by passive mode or non-active mode, and the internal ideology of the public often needs to be promoted by external design.

Figure 2-1
Figure 2-2
Figure 2-3

According to the analysis of relevant data, environmental protection has gradually been paid attention to in China since the 1970s. With more and more people receiving environmental education, the feasibility of sustainable development of environmental protection activities in society has improved dramatically. More and more artists will consider contemporary art practices with environmental protection concepts. The author thinks that when art practice is involved in environmental protection activities, how to expand the information contact surface with the audience, spread the social influence of the overall art and environmental culture, and carry out a more rational discussion.

2.3 The positive impact of network media on the development of environmental artists

The mass media is a tool that keeps the attention of the works of art growing. However, in environmental art, researchers have not paid enough attention. In the era of new network media, the three elements of artists’ trust, reputation and artistic activity commitment established by media platforms will, directly and indirectly, affect the adequate vitality of environmental protection activities. There are few types of research on environmental protection activities in media resources, especially in communication and semiotics. In the process of research and investigation, the author noticed the word — ‘always-on society’, which reminds us of how people regularly interact with others anytime, anywhere. The digital realm makes the social interaction between people, or between people and works of art, without spatial boundaries. (Marshall McLuhan,2019) A large amount of digital content is shared daily on WeChat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and other social media. In general, behind such a pattern is a large amount of data related to people’s behaviour and technology. So, works of art can be analyzed with big data for many personal, commercial and even social purposes. As a personal environmental art portal, Poi’s land is looking forward to making progress with social media data and people’s online social interactions. When the power of social media intervenes in the development of artistic creation, it should be a user-centred communication tool and an open place for the event audience to express their thoughts on various aspects of environmental art. Although many artists who hold and operate such personal accounts focusing on environmental art are not necessarily true environmental pioneers, it is a metaphor for a way of life and thinking. Most people are captured by quick and pithy information. To sum up, environmental art must establish and strengthen its closeness with various media channels to enhance the importance and attention of awareness transmission. In the process, the trust built up has created an intimate connection between the artist and the environmental supporters and a commitment to environmental art through a series of interactions.

The digitalization of the new era has changed the space and time of the original advocacy. The advantage of social media is that it transmits information quickly and has comprehensive coverage, making publicity an essential factor in establishing online artworks.


The development of art combined with environmental protection activities is the embodiment of the comprehensive development of various countries and regions in material, technology, economy, society, culture and system at all levels, intending to ease the pressure of global waste disposal and ultimately improve the quality of people’s living environment. A slogan of ‘green’ and ‘recyclable’ can be developed into an art project. In the process of a series of operations, planning and publicity, the significance of The Times of new media can be utilized to positively impact the environment and exert a positive guiding effect on the local society and profit-making organizations.

At this stage, the SDGs’ local and global environmental initiatives represent a competitive advantage in the arts. There is a buzz for artists, as the public tends to support environmentally conscious, recyclable art. At the same time, the emergence of the Internet and mass media has brought broad space for the sustainable development of ‘contemporary environmental art’, and more artists are willing to participate in planning an activity about the environment. In response to the environmental crisis, contemporary art practice combined with environmental activism will be one of the right strategies for achieving sustainability.

‘Art environmental protection activities’ are developing in art groups worldwide. When the overall artist personality consciousness is involved, it will probably develop into various fields closely related to human life and production. According to the analysis of the complete text, the awareness of recyclable art creation has excellent potential in developing environmental protection activities. Due to the bright prospect, the presentation of environmental creation by individual environmental artists is expected to be further mature in the next few decades, the group of environmental artists in the new era will be more prominent, and the concept of recyclable use will be more popular.

Lifecycle of Products 01 by Poyu Shen (2021)
Lifecycle of Products 02 by Poyu Shen (2021)

Richard Long.(1967)A line made by walking. Available at:

Richard Long. (1993) Bark Circle. Available at:

Richard Long. (1995) Ornwall summer circle. Available at:

Poyu Shen. (2022) Figure 1-1/Figure 1-2

Poyu Shen.(2020) Bloody Tag

Poyu Shen.(2022) Figure 2-1/Figure 2-2/Figure 2-3. Available at:

Poyu Shen.(2021) Products 01/02. Available at:


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About the Author

Poyu Shen is a contemporary artist who graduated from MA Fine Art:Sculpture at Camberwell College of Art and currently lives in London. He uses found objects and environmentally friendly materials to create works, mostly on issues of social institutions and post-colonization. Follow his work at