Nicole Dextras: 2013 AHN Awardee

“The underlying principle in my work is that if we can see ourselves as one of the cogs in our planet's vast ecosystem, we may learn to treat it with more respect. While we need science and government to study and protect nature, we also need a radical shift in our mindset from one who always controls to one who knows how to listen.” –Nicole Dextras


Nicole DextrasArts & Healing Network is delighted to present a 2013 AHN Award to environmental artist Nicole Dextras. Nicole’s work – whether ice sculptures of words in the landscape or compostable dresses -- is ephemeral, poetic, yet practical, and beautifully executed. We truly appreciate how her art invites dialogue and awareness of environmental issues while it also connects people more deeply to the natural world. We applaud her unique vision and creative spirit.

To learn more about Nicole’s work, please visit her web site at Don't miss her inspiring videos



Below is an interview from June 2013 with Nicole Dextras by Mary Daniel Hobson, Arts & Healing Network Director.


Mary Daniel Hobson: Could you begin by sharing a little bit about your background and what inspired you to make art about environmental concerns?


Nicole Dextras: After graduating from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, I spent my time developing new techniques such as cast handmade paper along with alternative photographic processes. In 2005 my experiments in photography led to making and photographing ice. This was a turning point for me, because ice allowed me to delve into the nature of the ephemeral, and so my art shifted to outdoor installations and community engagement. I had always wanted to do environmental art but it took me many years to find my own unique voice.


Mary Daniel:  Could you share what your creative working process is like? How do you come up with your ideas and implement them?


Nicole: Ideas come to me all the time but since I am often creating things for which there is no precedent, I end up doing quite a bit of testing before I can implement some of my ideas. This type of process really excites me and the challenge and the discovery are what keep me going. Since my work follows the seasons, if the weather changes before I finish my tests then I usually have to wait a whole year before I can pick it up again.


Mary Daniel: I particularly loved the Mobile Garden Dress that is compostable, creates a sustainable garden, and turns into a shelter. Can you share the story of how that dress came to be and what its impact has been?

Nicole: Twenty years ago I was a set designer for a traveling children’s theatre company where the challenge was to make things that assemble quickly. It was therefore a natural progression for me to incorporate some of this knowledge into the Weedrobes series. In 2011, I created the Mobile Garden Dress for a Children’s Festival here in Vancouver as a wearable garden, and it has now evolved into a series called the Urban Nomads, where the dresses can camp together and become a community and share food.


Mary Daniel: You have also placed words in the landscape that are either made of ice that melts, or of plants that grow and change. How do you select your words?


Nicole: For these projects I select words that relate to the environment and have multiple meanings. I think of the words as posing questions in the landscape to focus our attention on the world around us. For instance the Resource project consisted of 7-foot high ice letters placed on a frozen lake visible from the main road. Beside it in smaller letters were the words: Local, National and Global, which questioned the ownership and the boundaries of the natural resources, such as who owns the sun, the wilderness, the lake and its fish? The townspeople certainly see this lake as theirs, but then so do the native bands that live further down the shoreline. Furthermore which branch of government actually controls the nature around us? As our natural resources increasingly diminish, the answers to these questions will become vital to our survival.


Mary Daniel: So much of your work is ephemeral - can you talk about why that is?


Nicole: Simply put, we are ephemeral and like the cycles of nature our life is all about change. We tend to resist change because we prefer stability, but we are in essence in a constant state of flux. Looking at the natural world teaches me that, and so my use of ephemeral materials hopefully directs the viewer to overcome the fear of the unknown and embrace change.


Mary Daniel: What do you hope the effect of your work will be on others?


Nicole: The underlying principle in my work is that if we can see ourselves as one of the cogs in our planet's vast ecosystem, we may learn to treat it with more respect. While we need science and government to study and protect nature, we also need a radical shift in our mindset from one who always controls to one who knows how to listen.


Mary Daniel: Do you believe art making can be a catalyst for healing and positive change?


Nicole: I believe we learn from experience, and so I wish to make art that is experiential. This is why I work outdoors or on the streets. I have found that regular people are interested in art and they love having the chance to meet the artist. Making my art accessible is the most positive change I can bring about. In our march for a better future, these may be baby steps but the experiences are very genuine. For instance, years ago I was working on my large ice word, View, and a couple stopped to talk to me. The woman could not understand why I would go to such effort to make something that was not going to last whereas the husband immediately understood the poetic gesture of my work. I knew then that my work had profoundly touched these people and that was what kept me going through the cold and snow.


Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?


Nicole: I am working on a new project called StoreFront, objects of desire where I am creating highly desirable fashion items made from ephemeral materials presented in a window display in a shopping mall. Here dresses made from live flowers and shoes made of leaves are presented on mannequins as if for sale. I have also designed a logo for signage and tags, which mimic all the trappings of the retail experience. By presenting simulated fashion articles within an existent shopping experience the viewer is confronted with having to negotiate the space between desire and ownership.


Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to use their creativity to transform environmental issues?


Nicole: Do as much artwork as you can outside of the gallery system to reach out to people directly. This is difficult because galleries and museums help support artists financially, but we need to instigate alternative ways of presenting our work. I don’t know how that will manifest itself in the future, but we need to create precedents that show that art can be accessible while still having something to say. Art has been shut up within the pristine white walls of the gallery for too long, viewed only by an elitist crowd that feeds a hungry capitalist system. Take it to the streets and you will find an audience ready to listen.


Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?


Nicole: To affect real lasting change for the environment we as artist need to present ideas that spark debate and allow people to make their own decisions to offset the guilt and apathy caused by the constant bombardment of new negative environmental impacts. My hope is that in the future environmental institutions will embrace art as a viable alternative to presenting ideas for change.



To learn more about the work of Nicole Dextras, please visit her web site at