The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life.
The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.
Artist, activist, shining human, Emily Robyn Archer exudes creative flair. She brings passion and purpose to her interactions, coupled with a curiosity which takes them ever deeper. A graduate from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Emily is the founder of Cre8 Sustainability, working in schools to marry art practice with environmental awareness. She is known for her large scale installations, incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials as well as her hydroponic window installations, a method she uses for growing plants in water without the need for soil. With a love of wild nature running through to her, Emily’s work is an embodiment of this love and respect. It also acts as an exploration of how to engage humans with their environment in creative, educational, and mutually beneficial ways.
There are many things I love about Emily- her zest for living, her commitment to friendship but mostly her simple presence, for never do you leave Emily’s company without a renewed sense of hope and a reclaimed sense of possibility. Quite simply, she glows.
With pleasure, I introduce you to Emily Robyn Archer…
What makes you tick? What motivates you?
I’ve always been motivated by our relationship to the environment. Nothing gets me like environmental injustice -I know there are many, many other hugely important issues; how we treat each other for instance, poverty, war hunger- the list is long. And I don’t see these things as isolated either. But for some reason since I was a little girl I connected with this idea that we could be living in our environment in a better way- in harmony with the planet and all the creatures that roam its surface with us. I spent so much time as a kid making drawings about it, trying to raise money, even staging my own protests! Nowadays my art practice is centered on environmental themes (not much has changed!) I work with issues like water, waste and especially climate change. I don’t know why I’m so focused on this I just always have been and I’m pretty sure I always will be in one way or another.
I suppose if I peel back the layers I’m motivated simply by the natural world. It’s a difficult one because it sounds cliched. But I really am totally in awe, inspired and stirred-up by what I see growing through the cracks in the pavement, or soaring over my head everyday. I can’t look at a tree in passing without delighting in it.
What keeps you in Ireland?
That’s easy- my community here. Old friends, new friends and of course family- I treasure them all. I also love living here- it’s my home. I grew up here and that connection is really important to me. When I was a teenager my family lived abroad in Kenya for years so I got an idea of what its like to be foreigner in a foreign land. Being in Africa was an amazing experience in a so many different ways, and it made me value my own home place; that piece of land that I felt connected to. I was always sure that I wanted to live here.
What do you do just for the love of it?
Spending time hanging out with my family and friends. They are the stuff of life. It may be that unexpected pop around for tea, surprise visit and a long meandering conversation or all of the above if I’m lucky.
What does the creative process teach you?
My first creative coaches were my Mum and Dad. They’re both very creative in their own way- my Mum is a dancer and my Dad is a business man always coming up with new ideas. Mum instilled in us to never waste anything, every little thing has value and can be used again in a creative way. My Dad gave me my first official art lesson- the table was set with paints, brushes and paper and we both sat down to paint together. The very first thing he taught me was that there was no such thing as a mistake, in fact you have to make mistakes to learn and make new and interesting things.
I’ve really held on to these ideas in my own practice: I don’t get put off by what I don’t know yet or all the ‘mistakes’ I could potentially make while learning- I try to look at it as part of the process. I have a sort of ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach and usually find that if you put yourself out there and go for it- all sorts of wonderful things happen. My mum is probably happy that I work mainly with salvaged materials and am always trying to work out how to reuse and re-invent commonly undervalued or discarded materials.
So 3 things I learnt from my creative process and am still learning today are
- That there is no such thing as mistakes.
- Limits and parameters are sometimes great creative catalysts
- That there is a magic to opening up to possibilities
I take these learnings into other areas of my work: I run an initiative called Cre8 Sustainability that delivers environmental education and awareness raising projects with a creative edge. This can vary from teaching a group of city kids about urban growing by creating an upcycled hydroponic system with them for their school or getting teenagers interested in biodiversity by making seed bombs and teaching guerilla gardening tactics. Basically I feel that the creativity and its process are a really important part of the environmental movement and I’ve learnt from my work with Cre8 how powerful it can be in terms of getting people engaged, inspired and finally motivated.
How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?
Tidy my spaces: that’s a big one. I get stifled with too much stuff and mess around me. I take some time to remove whats not necessary, do some recycling or giving away and organize my living and work spaces. Then I sit down with a pen and notebook and go back to and reconnect with my core vision and mission.
How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?
I have found meditation really helpful in the past in terms of recognising and sitting with different emotions. Yoga helps me link mind and body too. But probably most of all- people- being with friends and family. I always delay sharing my feelings but when I do level with a friend and share what is going on I always feel better and have a different perspective on things. Another thing that really nourishes me or gets me through tough bouts of the blues is just being in nature: going on a wild walk, getting blasted by a bit of wind, looking at some amazing trees and realising that I am and we all are ‘only human’ at the end of the day.
Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?
- Walk out the door and bring the natural world into focus again
- The wonderful work and vision of my friends and people in our community.
- Books & publications & podcasts
- Talking with my partner Sam! He’s always got an interesting perspective up his sleeve.
What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?
- Find a vision that enlivens you
- Keep doing what you are uniquely doing
- Charge a proper fee for your work
Failures are of course all marvelous life lessons in disguise. I always think of Beckett’s words, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’
Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?
I can be counted on to use a steaming hot facecloth with essential oil to wake up myself up gently. I’d like to say I walk or do yoga every morning but it doesn’t happen that regularly. I do try and stretch and be mindful and gentle in the morning. In fact I can definitely say that I’m a believer in ‘gentle mornings’. This means taking it easy, not rushing, enjoying some good food and generally appreciating the morning that’s in it. If that also happens to involve a cup of tea in bed then even better!
As for other rituals: I keep an online day planner- it includes priorities/focus for the week ahead, daily tasks and deadlines and also a ‘long finger’ list that I tackle when I get a quiet day, things can stay on this list for a long time but having them written down and organised in priority really helps me not to get overwhelmed by having ‘a million things to do’. I really enjoy being able to say to myself- ‘there’s going to be time for that.’
It is hard to really pinpoint a particular creative habit. I know I work best at night when everyone has gone to bed. I know I sometimes have to go on an aimless cycle or walk to let a creative solution or idea to spring up. Sometimes you can try and try and try sitting at a studio desk, and then the creative vision comes as you’re watching the ducks!
What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?
Most recently Burning Ice-Art and Climate Change. A collection of essays and artworks undertaken on an arctic expedition ‘Cape Farewell’ including insights from artists, writers. scientists.
Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson
This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein
Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird
My favourite podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett. One of my special pastimes, when I know I have the house to myself for a couple of hours, is to listen to this while cooking a lovely meal.
What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?
Do exactly what you want to do, don’t worry about what others are doing or what other’s think you should be doing. Following your own interests and passions- they will fulfill you and excite you. Don’t limit yourself either- dream big. Oh and thanks to my friend Shrine who did say to me years ago “Give up your day job and go for it!”
And what advice would you give to your future self?
Grab a seat one of those solar powered airplanes and go on an adventure!
Emily’s work is currently on show in Paris as part of an exhibition in the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The exhibition titled Et si on s’était trompé ? (What if we got it wrong ?) runs until November 4th.
Link here to Emily’s website
And more on Cre8 Sustainability in this lovely video.