Meet Camila De Gregorio, Co-Founder of Eggpicnic
What came first, the love of wildlife or the love of design? Tell us about the process of intertwining these two things?
Chris has always had an interest in sustainability, and I have always loved animals. When I was five, I started my National Geographic and Zoo Book collection, I was in absolute awe of the world and wanted to know everything about it and I never grew out of that feeling. But I was never very good at science and was always fully engaged in art class. So, when the time came to decide what to study, I went for design. As a design student, I loved reading books about Tibor Kalman, Barbara Kruger and Milton Glaser. I was incredibly inspired by how design could change people’s behaviour, ways of thinking and get people talking about the things that matter. We decided to do this from a position of hope by creating pieces that are relatable to everyone, starting fundamental conversations.
Chris and I first met in Milan, where Eggpicnic began, and the following year we moved to Chile, my hometown, and started doing a series of experiments in design and we had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented local artisans and we listened and learned about their relationship with the land. We immersed ourselves in colour, natural materials and sustainable processes and we understood that as designers we had an enormous responsibility.
A few years later we moved to Sydney, where a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo landed on my balcony upon arrival. I was blown away as I had never experienced this type of interaction before, as it occurs in very few places on Earth, and I started drawing them and reading about Australian birdlife.
We started birding and we eventually joined the local bird club, Birding NSW. And the more we learned about the state of the environment in Australia the more worried we grew. We knew these were the stories we had to tell. Everything we had learned until then we used as a base to grow and transform Eggpicnic into a platform in which we could offer high-end quality products while educating and directly supporting scientists and conservation programs.
Why do you think it’s so important to communicate wildlife conservation through your art?
Our work brings the species to light, compelling people to fall in love, through art that is relatable for everyone and is universally loved, that brings people joy, a sense of wonder, discovery and gives them hope. We remind people of their role in this world and that empowers them to make changes, however small, in the direction to heal our relationship with this land. The beginning of living respectfully with the land comes with knowing it. And knowledge is the beginning of love. And when we fall in love, we want to fiercely protect.
We create a bridge between the community and the not-for-profit organisations that we work with, and we donate part of our sales and our work to support their research and conservation programs. We work with and listen to scientists to develop our projects, which has allowed us to establish multidisciplinary partnerships. We rely on their data and knowledge to open conversations about animals and the problems they face. With this information, we can identify and determine aspects that can engage people and ultimately shift mindsets and behaviours.
In 2020 we began a co-funded research project with Dr. Kate Umbers from the School of Science of the Western Sydney University to quantify the impact of art on conservation.
Your most recent work is an augmented reality Cockatoo hot air balloon. Can you tell us more about this? Has it had the impact you were hoping for?
We produce fine art prints and public art and due to the current lockdowns happening across Australia, all our current public art projects were either cancelled or postponed. We started exploring ways in which we could still reach the public despite these challenges, so we began experimenting with technology that interacts with public space. The use of filters and AR is a relatively new phenomenon, and it allows us to create art that is inclusive and participative. We’re always looking for new ways to communicate the stories and raise public support for Australia’s iconic, endangered and vulnerable species.
We live very close to Lake Burley Griffin and on one of our lockdown walks we stood in front of the lake wishing it was covered in hot air balloons, like the photos we had seen of the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. “Imagine all the balloons! How uplifting would this be right now.” In a split second, our minds synched, and we ran back home to build our own balloon. One that anyone could fly, any time of the year and no matter where people were.
We chose the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo because he’s had an important role in shaping Eggpicnic. Since that very first cockatoo landed on my balcony, I have always wished for people to get as excited as I was when they encounter their local birdlife and to not take anything for granted. Through our cockatoo balloon, we wanted to recreate the feeling of awe of my first encounter with an Australian bird, to share that deep sense of wonder that emerged through that experience.
We really weren’t anticipating any of this, for balloons to pour in from all over the world and for people to start calling him SkyCockatoo (we’re such huge fans of SkyWhale!), it’s been incredibly heart-warming. We hope it’s brought people much joy during these times, even for a fleeting moment. We also didn’t anticipate that a considerable amount of people would question whether the balloon was real and when they realised it wasn’t, they quickly demanded that it happen. Something that we would love to see become a reality.
In 2019 you wererecognised by the Sydney Opera House, becoming the first winner of the UncoveredProgram. Can you tell us more about this program and the effect it had on your business and careers?
In 2019 the Sydney Opera House launched a program to support and showcase Australian creative makers, artists and designers and project their stories and creativity through the Sydney Opera House platforms, to showcase artistic excellence off stage. We became the first winners of their Uncovered Program, with our work selected as the best in the category of Prints, Photography and Art. Working with the Sydney Opera House was a bucket list moment for us, to work with an icon that is an artwork in its own right, in addition to being one of the busiest performing arts venues on the planet. It became a beautiful responsibility and honour to represent Australia’s wildlife at the House and to have been mentored by such an incredible team.
Business partners and life partners, is it difficult to set boundaries between home life and work life? What’s some advice you would give to people considering working with their life partner?
Having worked together for over a decade, we’re heavily in tune with each other. We’ve shared a vision and purposefrom the very beginning. We celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly, and we never forget to have fun. We get to spend a lot of time together and to do what we love, so we make sure to make the most of it.
At this point in our partner in art and crime relationship, we can read each other’s minds. He’ll walk by and catch me staring at a drawing, only to point out exactly what was bothering me. I’m fascinated by his ability to wrap his head around 3D, something I would have never ventured into without him. We lift each other in so many ways and I’m incredibly lucky to share this unpredictable creative ride with him.
For people who are interested in wildlife conservation but don’t know where to start, what would you suggest to them?
It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed and to not know where to start. But the thing is we’re changing the world all the time. We’re changing the world every single day with what we choose to do, what we buy, whom we vote for, what we read or what we choose to ignore. We can support great NGOs, speak and demand change from our local governments, create movements and work constructively from our own professions and in our own communities. But first, we need to want to change things and understand our place in the universe.
We can begin by changing our language. Even the way we speak about nature, the way in which we communicate, disconnects us from the more-than-human kin. We talk about animals and other livings beings as “it” and put them in the same categories as inanimate objects. Robin Wall Kimmerer, writer and botanist, brings this to light in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. Key to this is restoring what she calls the “grammar of animacy”. This means viewing nature not as a resource but like an elder “relative” – to recognise kinship with the living world.
We must challenge the corporations and systems that urge us to live in a world-consuming throwaway society, those who only see value in a forest once the trees are cut down and that promote a great tide of junk. The problems we face are structural: a political system captured by commercial interests and an economic system that seeks endless growth.
How many more documentaries does David Attenborough need to make for people to change? We need to commit.
We need to embrace and respect ancestral knowledge, listen and learn from those who know this planet better than any of us and have been here from the very beginning. We need to not just show up for that one-off protest or donate only when our house is already on fire. We need to understand that as humans we carry a unique ability, that also comes with great responsibility. Individual and collective. And we need to understand that nature has the right to exist, not for what it can do for us. It just has the right to exist.
We need to not just show up but stay.
What exciting ventures can we expect from EGGPICNIC in the future?
We’re very excited to continue to explore Augmented Reality and to combine this technology with our upcoming exhibitions, public art projects and collaborations. We’re very happy to share with WOTSO that in 2022 we will hold a solo exhibition in The Mixing Room Gallery, featuring our work across different mediums and exploring local themes. We’re currently working on new collaborations with local Canberra-based artists that we hope to reveal soon! And who knows, maybe in 2022 we’ll beflying above Lake Burley Griffin.