Artist Index


Project space | Dell Walker - Holding Back the Tide

Extended until Nov 14th
Open 11am - 5pm Fri-Sun

Artist talks Sunday Nov 7th, 2pm - 3.30pm


Dell Walker's Holding Back the Tide celebrates Articulate's decade of support for spatial art practice by being the 27th project space project, a program that Articulate began in 2011 to encourage artists to use the project space to develop projects in the same space in which they are shown. It is supported by psp.doc in ArticulateUpstairs, which shows artist's documentation of ten of the earlier project space projects.

Dell Walker, Frolic/Freeze 3, Articulate, 2020 (detail), balancing found styrofoam packaging

Holding Back the Tide

Both the process and the final appearance of this immersive installation are important, so visitors are welcome to see the work as it develops over the weeks, June 15 – July 4. You are invited to gently touch the work and/or participate by adding your own styrofoam. I will be working during opening hours (Fri - Sun, 11 - 5) and for other times to meet call 0424 444 631.

Rubbish art that thinks about acquiring and discarding

In Holding Back the Tide I link two inundations. Firstly, in purchasing we are still awash in single-use plastics (though that tide is beginning to turn). Secondly, careless disposal of these plastics creates a flood of rubbish and litter worldwide, impacting the planet, especially the oceans.

For this Project Space Project, I attempt to integrate two methods of ‘playing’ with plastic rubbish: hanging tiny pieces of litter in a variation of a child’s mobile, and, sculptural assemblage by balancing (house-of-cards style) with discarded, single-use, preformed polystyrene foam packaging shapes. An immersive, gradually modulating installation of vulnerable materials. 

With Articulate’s front door facing south, the strong wind gusts will require some ingenuity with the styrofoam, but no glues, tapes, cutting or pinning will be employed, to avoid making more litter. The foam is so light that it can easily escape into the environment during transportation or when left out for hard rubbish collection. In the weather it breaks up, blown or washed into drains and waterways, onwards towards the oceans. There, along with all the other plastics, it mimics fish food and disrupts hormones of all creatures. Plastics do not break down for at least 500 years, they just break up into minute particles, even more problematic than the unsightly debris.

Worrying about the state of the planet led me to first pull styrofoam out of the weather and into the studio but once there, this foam became just material and it is sheer fun to be able to make temporary installations with the endless variety of these crisp machine-cut forms. However, I am not interested in foam from recycling. My works critically depend on discardedness, the needless waste from thoughtless accruing in the dominant philosophy of our culture: consumerism.

Rubbish is not rubbish

Rubbish is a generic name that enables easier discarding; our unwanted, which we wish to conveniently disappear. If polystyrene foam is regarded as material, as for soft plastics going to REDcycle outside supermarkets, we would deliver it to densification machines, to remove its 98% air. Melted into a white solid, it can be melted again to form other products (now mostly for building products, in the past single-use cutlery was polystyrene). Currently made from fossil oil, foam packaging could be made from vegetable products, as with the loose-fill packing ‘noodles’, which dissolve out of doors. Alternatively, appliances are sometimes packaged with preformed recycled cardboard fitting the negative spaces (as for eggs). Styrofoam inserts can be returned to the retailer to dispose of, but shopping online results in more packaging and less responsibility for it. Packaging skips behind retailers were for recyclers but these have largely disappeared with other countries no longer willing to buy our unsorted plastics. 

The value of rubbish is starting to be recognised with more bottles made with 100% recycled plastic.

The turtle’s view

As well as utilising discarded styrofoam, the second aspect of this Project Space Project will take a diver’s or a turtle’s view of our plastic litter. Delicate hangings in this section will be affected by viewers’ movements among them, giving agency. To sway with an underwater motion, the tiny pieces of litter needed to be glued to an unobtrusive, lightweight support. Human hairs sufficed, with the bonus of hanging the responsibility on all humans for the rubbish. While some marine debris is generated on the oceans or shores, a considerable proportion starts inland, carried out by wind or rain.

Post-consumer debris from streets, creeks, parks and beaches is used. The majority of this litter remains single-use items, especially packaging, and has come to be made of increasingly seductive, fluorescent and translucent plastics, in the battle for market share; they become eye-catching for sea creatures. 

All hang from discarded foam sheets, that separate flat-pack furniture; like the furniture, this mobile can be disassembled for storage and reuse. Art is a second use for rubbish. In salvaging any plastics for art use, I am holding back the tide: a dam to impede progress, or a rubbish trap in the drain flowing to the sea.

Some efforts toward stemming the tide of plastic debris

Art is a temporary measure that draws attention to rubbish, normally beneath notice. After art, recycling is an option for the clean styrofoam, but for dirty plastics or those made from fused mixed plastics (as in toys and toothbrushes) there is no recycling. 

Reuse is preferable to recycling. Without the costs of recycling processes, reuse extends a product’s life and reduces its carbon footprint. Reuse is a pivotal key towards zero waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse/Repair, Recycle or Rot.

I am not focused on this weighty topic as I work; it is enjoyably challenging to be given such a large space with my rubbish, figuring ways to wedge and interlock foam forms to resist the southerly winds yet still appear precarious, like ecosystems. The best method to hold back the tide of rubbish is to resist the source. Resist the ploys of marketers who engineer artificial demands for products, ignore the advertisers that try to convince us to be unhappy with what we have, and the conglomerates that deceive by saying that consumerism is driven by customers. 

This artwork was instigated by deep concern over global warming and environmental degradation as a result of over consumption (all the pollution generated in manufacturing and transportation of short-lived goods). Instead of simply making a statement by bringing in lots of packaging waste, an immersive and interactive artwork was planned, playing balancing games with all my fantastic shapes again. My work often reconfigures the negative aspects of litter and waste into art that catches joy or awe, beauty or gentleness, curiosity or intrigue. The result is engagement, encouraging viewers to seek understanding.

Dell Walker

June 2021

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Conditions of entry:

NSW Public Health Order requires all visitors over 16 years of age,
To sign in with the QR code provided at the entrance,
To have double vaccination, and wear a mask.
Social distancing rules will also apply.
Please don't come if you are feeling unwell.
Articulate is a registered Covid Safe business.

Previous advertised dates, changed due to lockdown in Sydney
Open 11am - 5pm Fri-Sun 18 June- 11 July 2021
Opening event Saturday 26 June 2-5pm
(postponed till 10/11 July subject to lockdown)
Artists talks (postponed till 10/11 July subject to lockdown)
Saturday 26 June 2pm: Dell Walker, Aude Parichot, Alan Schacher
Saturday 3 July 2pm: Dell Walker