The work of artist and climate activist Carine Thevenau, juxtaposes the natural and industrial world. We talked to the Mauritian-Australian photographer about the coexistence of plants and humans, how climate activism is changing, and exactly why we need to protect the world around us.
How did you become interested in photography?
When I was 8 years old I participated in an extended learning program. I had the opportunity to leave my usual school (during school hours) and attend another campus, where they held elective courses. The electives I chose were photography and book making. I learned how to develop in the dark room during this time and went on a photography camp down the south coast of Western Australia. The camp ran for a few days and there was a darkroom on site for us to develop our film and print. This experience had a profound effect on me and I fell in love with photography. I was lucky enough to have a darkroom at the highschool I attended. I was the girl who always smelled like photo chemicals.
How do you think plants feed into our sense of identity?
If we are in space and look down at earth from above, we would think to ourselves, there we are. That’s where we live. This sense of identifying ourselves from this perspective would include all living things: plants, humans and animals together. We are collectively alive on earth.
Another thing to consider is that the life cycle of plants is one we witness many times in our life. Seeing a seed turn to a sprout, grow into a plant, flourish, before starting to die and finally decompose and return to the earth. It is a great metaphor for what happens to us in our own lifetimes. We are fools to think we are separate from the earth and from the plants around us.
Plants are all around us. We are co-dependents. We help each other breathe. What a beautiful symbiotic relationship. One to be cherished and nurtured.
How is human activity impacting the environment?
Human activity is undoubtedly devastatingly destructive to the natural environment. It breaks my heart to think about it. We depend on the natural environment and shouldn’t consider ourselves separate from it.
'Hear the Cry of Youth' is your portrait series of Australian young climate activists. How do you think their approach to activism is different from what we are used to?
Teenagers are the adults of tomorrow, so they will be the ones to inherit the damage done by the climate crisis. The teenagers of today are well-educated and digitally literate. They can connect to other climate activists and scientists all over the world and they have the ability to educate other young people about the environment using a plethora of online platforms. Strike School, created by the Australian collective Schools Strike 4 Climate, is an online educational program where the teen activists discuss and learn the basics of climate science. This is unique to what has been achievable by young climate activists of the past.
When it comes to climate action, what are we missing?
We are missing the action. As a society we are aware of the climate crisis, we talk about it and we write about it, but the action is not happening by those who have the real power.
What ways do natural materials feed into your art process?
I am always trying to maintain a photography practice that is as sustainable as possible. I print using Japanese washi paper which is created from renewable plant sources. I also love printing on bamboo paper. Bamboo trees need significantly less water than cotton plants require. They also don’t have any natural pests which means there is no chemical pesticides used to harvest and the paper itself is made using renewable plant resources. The textures of the paper are organic, nuanced and unique.
What are your favourite houseplant?
Yes! I live with plants. They give any room life. They create movement in a static room. Plants are natural sculptures. I have a Monstera Deliciosa that just keeps on giving. I have cuttings next to the sink in the kitchen that are ready to pot at the moment. I am lucky enough to live in a home with an abundance of natural light, so the plants can thrive easily. I live in Annandale, Sydney. Annandale is well known as having a lot of green space. We have community gardens and a nature reserve known as Whites Creek, which has a small wetland. An idyllic place to be able to visit daily during lockdown.