Martha Sturdy considers herself an eternal optimist. It’s a pretty solid outlook for anyone, let alone an 81-year-old who’s been living on this (burning) planet for over eight decades—and, you know, has undeniably seen some shit.
“Climate change and flooding and rising temperatures and all these things are very scary,” the Vancouver-based sculpture artist says via phone. “But a negative attitude doesn't make it better. It is a wake-up call, for sure. But I like to look at things in a constructive manner.”
Known for her work’s contemporary style, arresting size, and use of tactile materials, Sturdy is a master of shape and form. Her work has been shown internationally (Baku, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai), but there’s also plenty right here at home—including her latest piece, One World.
Debuting at West Van’s Harmony Arts Festival on Aug. 4, One World is Sturdy’s call to arms: we only have one home, so let’s work together to care for it. Painted in vibrant yellow, the piece features two parts: a giant square base in tilt (the earth’s axis) and a sphere balanced on top (the earth itself). In a fit of structural engineering, it looks as though the earth is going to fall right off its axis—representing the gravity of our situation. But, Sturdy’s quick to point out, it won’t actually topple. As in: things are precarious, but it’s not too late to right the ship.
“The axis looks like it’s going to tip,” she says, “but like everything else, we can work in constructive ways.”
For her that means making incremental changes in our own lives, no matter how insignificant they seem. While we know that only 100 companies are responsible for creating 71 per cent of the world’s fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean we should stop composting or start slurping through plastic straws again, either.
One World, which took about nine months to create, was firstly designed for children (hence its primary colour and stacking blocks aesthetic). Sturdy says she’s energized by young people, and wants to help teach them early on about the importance of taking care of the earth. Of course, these are messages that we adults need to hear, too. Whether it be using fewer plastic water bottles or buying more used clothing, Sturdy’s adamant that a good outlook is never a bad thing.
“Generate positivity by offering your help to do constructive things like working with fisheries, picking up garbage—take a Saturday morning every week and walk down the streets picking up garbage,” she says. “You can say, ‘Well, what does that have to do with climate change?’ I think it helps to have a positive attitude. And if you’ve done something good, it leads to more good.”
When: Aug. 4 to 13
Where: Various locations, West Vancouver waterfront