What Artist Kat Austen’s Arctic Journey Meant to Her

Kinetic Sculptor Kat Austen on how her sponsored voyage with One Ocean Expeditions & being Friends of SPRI’s Artist in Residence shaped her latest installation

Initially studying Chemistry, Dr Kat Austen trained in mixed media artwork and metal work during her post-doctoral research, thereafter commencing a career in Kinetic sculpture. We caught up with Kat to learn about her influences, how One Ocean Expeditions and Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute have supported her work and the concepts that are so clearly at the heart of each piece she creates.

Kat explains that she always had a passion for the environment and a desire to understand the effects of human interaction on our ecosystem. During her scientific career, Kat analysed how harmful chemicals produced through industrial processes interact with surfaces and water molecules and, moreover, asked where our responsibility lay in fixing this damage.

Among her sculptural works exploring our relationship to the environment, Kat has produced the ‘Coral Empathy Device’, an immersive multi-sensory project; which connects humans to coral, better allowing us to understand this alien species. Her follow up project, ‘Not Waving’ further inspired visitors to take action to prevent the degradation of ecosystems.

Kat’s voice on climate change, spoken through sculpture led her to the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) who were intrigued by the innovative and responsive sculptures she produced. SPRI’s physical and anthropological view of the polar regions was unquestionably in sync with Kat’s project and ‘The Matter of the Soul’, her next installation, has been invaluably shaped and enhanced by being chosen as Friends of SPRIs Artist in Residence, working with SPRIs scientists and having access to their world-leading Polar Museum.

As part of One Ocean Expedition’s sponsorship of SPRI’s 2017 Arctic Artist in Residence Programme, Kat was able to join us onboard sailing to Baffin Island in the High Canadian Arctic where she gathered valuable insights for ‘The Matter of the Soul’. Whilst floating on the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, Kat was able to fully experience the splendour of this remote wilderness whilst continuing her research. This vital opportunity was enhanced by fellow One Ocean Expeditions passengers and visits to local cultures in Nunavut who spoke of their motivations in visiting and living in the Arctic, as well as differing attitudes toward climate change.

‘The Matter of the Soul’ feeds off Kat’s voyage to the Arctic with One Ocean Expeditions and her work with SPRI, as well as her own background in the arts, climate change activism and scientific study. The final piece will focus on sound played through sculpture to reflect the transitions of water in the Arctic and encourage people to make changes themselves to prevent climate change.

You can see Kat’s installation, ‘The Matter of the Soul’ at Bonhams in London in August 2018 as part of an exhibition curated by the Polar Museum, and the work will be further developed during her forthcoming Cultural Fellowship at Leeds University. Find out more about Kat at http://katausten.com.

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