Exploring the essence of our relationship with the natural environment and the connection between visual art and the viewer are at the core of Kaitlyn Elphinstone’s thematic designs.
The award-winning Cayman artist, whose ‘Woven Sea Fan’ and ‘White Plaits, Blue Braids’ are part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, remains passionate about the same themes that inspired her first show 10 years ago. The exhibition at Full of Beans Café was titled ‘Fingerprint.’
The exhibit “was keenly intent on illustrating our interconnectedness with our natural environments, while fully aware of the potential of art to raise awareness and inspire change within our consumer culture and relationship with waste,” Kaitlyn says.
“Ten years on, I believe this sentiment still forms the basis of my work. I remain fascinated by the way we see ourselves within our cultural and natural landscapes, and my work certainly reflects ongoing narratives of increasing pollution, climate change and development.”
She says she now finds herself using her work to question the topical issue of our rapidly changing world: “How should we develop our environments and fragile coastlines? Now that we are acutely aware of our environmental impact, where do we go from here?”
As a young girl growing up in the Caribbean, Kaitlyn spent hours snorkelling, fishing from shore, catching land crabs in buckets and bringing home collections of found objects from the seaside.
These experiences, combined with her art history and humanities studies at the University of Toronto and at the University of London, helped her develop her art practice and what she describes as her concept-driven voice.
That voice is apparent in such works as her ‘Woven Sea Fan,’ in which torn strips of plastic shopping bags are woven into a sea fan, “creating a strong visual representation of the interconnectedness of human actions and the impact they can have on the environment,” according to the description from the National Gallery.
Similarly, digital works titled ‘Coastal Beach Rocks’ incorporate crystals, pearls and beads in coral rock to create a collage “that speaks to the value we place on our coastlines and the disappearance of our coastal environments due to development and coral bleaching caused by global warming,” the artist says.
Her process is intuitive, she says. Typically, an article or a discussion prompts her to explore a concept or an issue, and from there she goes about collecting certain items, or perhaps buying them or choosing from found objects to visually articulate her idea, she explains.
Currently, tiles are a favourite medium. Her large format ‘Coral Tiles’ installation was recently displayed at the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman and the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac. The work is a series of digital collages created from photographs of coral patterns, over which Caymanian architectural fretwork designs have been superimposed.
The “environmentally appropriated tiles comments on our intricate relationship with our surrounding landscapes, the value of our coastline as a commercial commodity and questions what space there is between natural and manmade beauty,” the National Gallery description says.
Kaitlyn notes that she is unlikely to ever settle on just one method or mode of expression, but her commitment to the environment remains the overriding theme.
Her current favourite piece is one that she’s not quite ready to part with.
“It’s a framed 30” X 30” work which consists of cut sea fans stitched together with cinnamon dental floss. I love the juxtaposition between the single-use nylon dental floss used for hygienic purposes and the patchwork of sea fans,” she says.
“I think it’s a powerful metaphor for our willingness to slice and divide commercial parcels of land for profit while striving to work together to stitch things back together to reduce carbon emissions and conserve marine ecosystems.”
Ultimately, she sees her art as providing a starting point for discussion and as a tool to communicate something that might be difficult to put into words.
“I want my work to teach us to take notice more or notice something different that could potentially change someone’s outlook,” she says. “At the end of the day, I want my work to have meaning, as well as be aesthetically pleasing.
“While design, texture, shape and form are important, if someone can look at my work and be impressed by its beauty and at the same time be moved by the underlying message that I am trying to convey, then I feel I’ve been successful.”