Interview: Meg Van Hale on climate change and building connections through art

You are a recent graduate from the Dunedin School of Art. What are the key skills you have learned while studying in Dunedin?

Studying jewellery at the DSA taught me a few key things that have shaped me as an artist. Firstly, I enjoy problem solving. I love trying out new materials and techniques and figuring out how to use that for my aesthetic language. This also carries over to my position as a jewellery night class tutor. I teach the beginners class so going over the fundamentals and explaining techniques to people who are new to metalworking often requires a bit of creative problem solving. Another valuable takeaway from my time studying, is the importance of community. I currently share my studio with four other jewellers all whom I met at Polytech, and the ongoing support and friendships of other jewellers and artists is invaluable.

You use a diverse range of different mediums and techniques, but the common theme is climate change and our relationship with nature. Why do you focus on these topics?

Climate change is arguably one of the most prevalent issues for my generation. It feels like the cry to save the planet, once the background noise to my childhood, has now become an urgent invitation to participate. Issues of climate change and our relationship with nature are sources of inspiration because I want to understand why. Why we live the way we do, a way that destroys our only home and brings suffering to humans and non humans alike. Jewellery became a tool for questioning our society's values. Traditional jewellery is often a signifier of monetary wealth, whereas contemporary jewellery can canabillize this idea of "value" and offer up new ones: connection, love, positive change. In short, this issue matters to me because the Earth and its many ecosystems are precious. I do not believe that we as humans are separate from these systems, we depend on them physically, mentally and spiritually.

Do you think that art can play a deeper role in the transformation of society, for example help us reduce the impact of climate change?

Definitely. This is another driving force behind why I use jewellery to talk about climate change. I believe a vast majority of the worlds population understands climate change is negative. There is an abundance of science and media coverage on the myriad of issues that face the world today; pollution, extinction, major weather events, rising sea levels. While important, I wonder if this information overload is actually having an adverse effect. The burden of this information that constantly predicts disaster and ruin, tends to make us want to look the other way, stick our heads in the proverbial sand. Art however has the therapeutic ability of allowing the viewer to make their own conclusions, gently guiding us to an epiphany, connecting us emotionally to the subject matter. It is a form of communication and a tool for learning that is understood by any individual uniquely, as each person brings their own background and preconceived notions to the work. Because art facilitates such authentic experiences, I believe it has great capacity to be transformative within society.

Did you find time to continue creating art during the lockdown? And if so, how was it working in these circumstances?

I did have a few projects in the works. I managed to finish a painting. I reupholstered my piano stool. I did a small amount of jewellery work, but it was considerably difficult without being in my beloved workshop. I created when it felt good to do so and otherwise took to recharge. 

House of Nasturtia, acryclic on canvas

Which piece of your work are you most proud of?

I would probably have to say Bite The Hand ring I made as a part of my bachelor's series Second Nature. This ring won the Village Goldsmith Award, top in the jewellery category in the ECC Student Design and Craft awards. It also represents the epitomy of that project for me. It's a crab mounted on a ring hovering above the wearers hand. Mounted similarly to a mueseum display but sitting like a creepy jewel on your hand. It speaks of the value of nature and even that which we might find grotesque. 

Bite The Hand ring