‘Untitled’, 2014 – courtesy www.DistilEnnui.com
There’s no shortage of art addressing environmental themes, and many of the artists involved are deeply engaged with the causes their work reflects on. Nonetheless, Alexander James Hamilton is exceptional in the depth of his commitment. ‘I have made it my life’s work’, he says, ‘to explore and protect global waters through artistic interventions and creating explorative bodies of work using the signature of water at the core of my practice in locations all around the world’. You can trace three decades years of that activity on his website www.DistilEnnui.com , including his compelling core practice of making underwater photographs with analogue equipment, the water operating both symbolically and as the means of generating painterly effects in his revisiting of flowers, butterflies, vanitas subjects and figures. Hamilton, as much an activist as an artist, is currently living in the Maldives, where he has a long history of working to stimulate recycling – any purchases from his site help to support that effort. As Hamilton explains, fish populations have fallen drastically as plastic pollution has entered the food chain at every level from the microscopic to the top predators, as over 90% of the aluminium and plastic from the drinks industry is either buried in landfill sites, burned or dumped in the ocean. Yet it takes less than 5% of the energy to recycle an aluminium drinks can or plastic bottle rather than make a new one. The Maldives is 1,600 km from the nearest landfall, and other than what Hamilton has initiated, there have been no facilities for recycling plastic or aluminium, or indeed creating fresh water on the local islands, with everything brought across by boat in plastic bottles. In response, Hamilton has designed and funded the building of recycling facilities– you can read the technical details here – and is also using that capacity to make art: each of the bottle sculptures in his ‘Drink Less’ series ‘is made from 1,000 aluminium coke cans brought to the Maldives and sold with no regard for responsible recycling’. Hamilton says he is ‘trying to create a satisfying ‘end of life’ for these waste materials with a meaningful message for the youth of tomorrow to consider before they make further unconsidered purchases’.
‘Drink Less’, 2021 courtesy www.DistilEnnui.com
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head