Thursday, June 20News For London

Meet the fairy godmother preaching sustainability on Oxford Street

Starlight Faerie on Oxford Street. Image by: Malavika Pradeep

Paper straws in plastic wrappers, winter sports sponsored by global polluters and the entire debate surrounding reusable plastic bags: the irony of environmental action has long been adopted by the intersection of art and sustainability.

As a constructive concept in climate activism, irony has generated awareness about a broad range of ecological issues – in turn, contributing directly to environmental restoration. In Julie Beech and Danil Ripnar’s work, this irony is illustrated with the blend of London’s elegant, high-end retail scene and sustainability.

The result is a 3-metre-tall, recycled fairy godmother dubbed ‘Starlight Faerie‘, urging the busiest shopping street in Europe to rethink their understanding of greener lifestyles during the festive season.

Wish upon a recycled star. Image by: Malavika Pradeep

Commissioned by Veolia and the New West End Company, the brief of ‘Starlight Faerie’ hinges on the phrase ‘to wish upon a star’ while being composed of recycled waste materials found across Westminster. The installation modifies and dresses a mannequin torso donated by Primark in a handmade corset – embellished with empty tea light holders which were each cut and cleaned by hand, before being individually screwed onto the form.

“We tried to imbue the figure with a gentle power, covered on the one hand in a corset that looks like armour, yet made from objects that symbolise people’s hopes and wishes,” Beech and Ripnar told Westminster World. The latter is visualised with the help of prayer candles sourced from Westminster Abbey.

“The addition of an inner glow symbolises an internal strength that is not dependent on the ‘second hand’ clothes she wears,” the duo continued.

As architecture alums from the University of Westminster, Beech and Ripnar seemed inclined to use waste material from the construction industry for the fairy’s skirt. “One of the main reasons for using plastic in construction is its resilience,” the artists explained, adding that there’s an abundance of debris in this industry.

“They are non-degradable for over 1,000 years [while] also being lightweight and cost-effective. We have utilised this waste material – attractive for its varied colour palette, durability and graffiti resilience – to create a dress that will hopefully induce awe.”

Experimentation, randomness and intuition dictated Beech and Ripnar’s design process. The unpredictable nature of the source materials further chiselled their identities as “urban foragers, finding value in what may be seemingly useless or undesirable.”

But the creation and installation of a fairy godmother in a popular shopping destination came with its own set of challenges. “Finding an affordable studio was difficult in London, but we eventually found an amazing place called RARA Clapton that we hired for two weeks to complete the build,” the artists shared.

Then came the lighting design, which was far more complex than the duo had ever imagined. “Lighting the star, in particular, proved challenging,” they admitted. “We had to design and thread a system of wires through her body and up the wand without breaking any connections. However, we were incredibly fortunate to collaborate with lighting designer and electrician, Corey Xavier.”

Apart from sustainability, ‘Starlight Faerie’ is backed with the broader purpose of supporting the national children’s charity, Starlight. Doubling as an interactive donation point, the installation aims to help children in hospitals experience the power of play over the holidays.

But given its placement on a bustling corner of Oxford Street, it can be argued that the sculpture runs the risk of not drawing enough engagement to support this cause. 

When asked about ways to garner monetary engagements, Beech and Ripnar outlined additional efforts undertaken by Starlight. “The charity has a fantastic team of fundraisers who are currently going around London, including Oxford Street, with information and buckets to raise awareness and money,” they said. 

Fronted by sustainability, the artists ultimately hope to push audiences into buying vintage, pre-loved items rather than support the disposable culture forged by brands. “We would also like to inspire people to think of creative ways they can use waste materials, especially around this time of year for gift giving,” they added. 

‘Starlight Faerie’ will be on the corner of Oxford Street and South Molton Street throughout the holiday season, if you’re looking to wish upon a recycled star. In January 2024, it will reportedly go on tour across Westminster.