Learning about oil

CONSTRUCTION: Colleen Plank with the oil rig installation in the exhibition Slick.
CONSTRUCTION: Colleen Plank with the oil rig installation in the exhibition Slick.

A collaborative project between artists and school children in Nelson aims to shed light on the widespread use of oil in our daily lives. Anna Pearson reports on an upcoming exhibition in the G-Space Gallery at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

Slick is a collaboration between Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology tutors Colleen Plank, Adi Tait and John Irwin, environmental advocate Verena Maeder and pupils from St Joseph's School and Nelson Central School.

Plank, who specialises in textiles, came up with the idea for the exhibition after observing a “monstrous” oil derrick in Tasman Bay last year.

It triggered her to think about their function and the consumption of oil-based products and she decided to reach out to the community to create awareness of the potential hazards of drilling oil in New Zealand waters through a project involving children.

“Our children are becoming enduring consumers of petroleum-based products. It is about working with our own communities to sow seeds for the social change needed to consume less of the stuff and find alternatives,” she says.

Room 11 at St Joseph's School and Room 3 at Nelson Central School learnt about the uses of petroleum, peak oil, oils spills and the effect of fossil fuels on climate change through a learning resource called The Oil Game with Maeder, the Greenpeace volunteer co-ordinator for the Nelson region.

“What came out in the discussions with the children is that most things we use have got oil content. That was a really big eye-opener for the kids, to realise how dependent we are on oil. It's important to teach them because they're the future decision-makers and innovators and they're also the generation that will be most affected,” she says.

The pupils were invited to create artworks destined for the G-Space Gallery, alongside a 5-metre monochromatic ink drawing by multi-media artist Tait, edited footage of the children playing The Oil Game by documentary maker Irwin and other collaborative sculptures.

Maeder says art is a useful way of communicating messages about things that are “quite hard to grasp”, such as the effects of climate change on future generations.

Plastic cut-outs of drink bottles, footwear and glasses frames, all produced using some oil content, feature in a wall-hanging made out of ice-cream containers by the year 5 and 6 pupils at Nelson Central School.

The two-metre piece changes in colour from oil-slick black at the top to blue and white at the bottom, to represent at-risk oceans.

The pupils' teacher, Choi Fu, says the artwork aims to encourage people to reduce their consumption of oil products.

“It's quite an intricate piece. It was a great learning opportunity really, to learn more about where oils come from and that it's not an infinite supply.”

Slick, G-Space Gallery, opens 5.30pm Tuesday, with a presentation by environmental advocate Verena Maeder. Runs until August 10.