By Darren Lum
When Haliburton Highlands Secondary School Grade 9 art student Taylor Horsley won the secondary school poster contest Combat Climate Crisis Project, she felt a mix of emotions ranging from surprise to excitement.
“There was a lot going around with Australia and it was burning, so that was the main idea of my work and I wanted to put the tragedy of what was going on there to portray that,” she said.
Taylor won with her two dimensional mixed-media piece of a set of lungs, created from a collection of magazine clippings showing various plants, set against varying shades of green in the left lung, and then a repeat of that imagine across the top half of the right lung, with the bottom half depicting a wall of fire and mixture of browns and shades of sand. The statement “The trees are our lungs, we can’t breathe without them,” featured predominantly on the piece.
Taylor, who was taking a Grade 10 arts class when she won, received an individual art kit.
Also part of the contest, a tree was planted at the back entrance of the school by the music class. An accompanying plaque with Taylor’s name engraved will be installed in the autumn.
The success related to winning the District 18 Retired Teachers Ontario Project contest has given her inspiration to pursue other arts media for other creations such as sculpture and collages/mixed media. Before this effort, she had focused solely on drawing and painting.
The contest, which was open to any high school student enrolled in an art class, was designed to raise community awareness of the urgent need for action, as stated in the contest outline. The contest included 20 entries. There was also $100 awarded to each participating art department’s high school.
Taylor’s teacher and the high school’s art department head Karen Gervais wrote in an email that “we approached it from more of a fine arts perspective rather than a poster, which is what we did.”
The context of the project that the students were working from, Gervais wrote, was they were studying the role of art as activism and were invited to select a subject of interest to inform and persuade others to take action about a specific issue. Some of the students’ work has been displayed on the school’s website.
Gervais wrote, “Taylor made creative use of the shape of the lungs, which also resembles the shape of leaves to draw attention to our interdependence with nature. She made creative use of colour and contrast to show the impact of climate changes and increase in forest fires and the devastation that results. I also like her use of recycled materials in the creation of this work as the paper itself is a product of trees and reminds us that we can all help to reduce, reuse and recycle.”
Principal Chris Boulay and vice-principal Jennifer Mills were invited to select the winner from HHSS, Gervais said.
“This message was very clear and different than the rest and the use of different mediums was great,” Mills said.
As part of the contest, the students were asked to describe their work, provide background information about the topic and why it is important.
From Taylor’s prepared statement, she said her work is about deforestation in the world.
“Every day more than 200,000 acres of forest are burned, that’s around 78 million acres a year. This can lead to climate change and increased greenhouse gases. This topic is important because trees are our source of oxygen, so by destroying them we’re endangering ourselves as well,” she wrote.
The students were also asked about how they attempted to visually communicate their message, to discuss symbols, media choices, colours, and the use of elements and principles of design.
“I communicated this by making the lungs trees and the right lung being burned by fire. I chose to do lungs because it represents how we breathe. By incorporated trees it relates to the earth and how without either of them we die. I also included a sentence at the top of the page relating to the issue,” she wrote.
Taylor welcomed the opportunity to be part of an effort in combating the global climate crisis because she loves the outdoors.
“It can be elegant. It can be … there is just a variety of things you can see in the outdoors. I think it was a bit tragic and hard to see that it’s not thriving very well,” she said.
Being more climate-aware has also made Taylor adjust her shopping habits.
She cited how many products contain palm oil, which was part of the growing demand for agricultural spaces and has been behind the destruction of parts of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil.
“I didn’t realize how much we use it in day-to-day life, so it kind of made me think … even though it’s useful and how we use it all the time, that it would be very hard to change it,” she said.