The University of Newcastle, Australia

From steelworker to award-winning artist

Thursday, 7 May 2015

After 30 years as a metallurgist, in 2008 Andrew Styan changed direction radically to take up a part-time career as a climate change researcher and to pursue his passion for landscape photography.

Travel featured strongly in next few years, before Styan looked for a new focus. In 2012 he enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Art degree at The University of Newcastle to help hone his skills. During his undergraduate years, Styan won a number of scholarships and prizes during his undergraduate period.

The latest, and most prestigious of these prizes is winning the $35,000 Dr Harold Schenberg Art Prize which was awarded to Styan for his multimedia work The Bell Buoy.

Drawing on his interest in climate change and Newcastle's focus on coal exports, The Bell Buoy was inspired by three elements:

  1. coal
  2. the buoys off Nobbys breakwall
  3. Rudyard Kipling's The Bell Buoy.

Styan's The Bell Buoy is a kinetic multimedia piece, exploring the impact that we humans are having on climate change. Drawing on the notion of an asteroid drawing closer to earth, Styan uses a suspended piece of coal as an asteroid.

The piece came into fruition when Styan was attempting to photograph a lump of coal and have it look beautiful. "I suspended it from a nylon string and as it kept spinning it reminded me of an asteroid." Styan said.

Styan was nominated for the Hatched: National Graduate Show by the school. Twenty two prestigious art schools and universities nominated 90 students for consideration, however, of these, only 35 will be accepted. And there is only one winner of the $35,000 prize.

The 2015 prize judges: Amy Barrett-Lennard, Director, PICA; Lisa Slade, Assistant Director Artistic Programs, Art Gallery of South Australia; and Ted Snell, Director, UWA Cultural Precinct said:

'Andrew Styan's work displayed a power in its simplicity and a sense of autobiography and a deep knowledge about a place, but without sentimentality. The three main elements of his video, light, sound and sculpture installation collectively envelop the viewer, creating a "device of wonder". On seeing the work the judges felt an immediate urge to see more by this artist.'

Andrew Styan says of the piece:

Humanity's impact on the climate is profound and yet the collective will to act is absent. The explanation for this paradox may lie in an inability to distinguish the physical reality of the world we inhabit from the version of it mediated through technology and the media. The Bell Buoy explores this idea: while the approaching asteroid of disaster-movie fiction becomes a metaphor for the imminent climate catastrophe, its source in physical reality – the spinning fragment of fossil fuel – draws a parallel with our hyperreal world. The lone, silent buoy is an impotent warning of the danger. As Kipling's poem 'The Bell Buoy' heralds, "By the gates of doom I sing, On the horns of death I ride."

See more of Andrew Styan's work on his website.

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