Laura Baker is a papercutter living on Wiradjuri Country in NSW Central West. Her work for the state-wide Regional Futures project explores home and issues around housing.
Laura’s is one of the two projects from the NSW Central West featured in the Regional Futures: Artists in a Volatile Landscape exhibition at Casula Powerhouse, Western Sydney running 24 June to 24 September. The exhibition will be officially opened on 21 July ahead of the Regional Futures Symposium 22 July, 9.30am – 4pm.
Laura holds a BFA and MCom (Arts & Cultural Management) and has lived in Sydney and Melbourne before returning to her hometown of Blayney. Starting with unmarked paper, she uses surgical cuts to explore the qualities and detail of the Australian landscape. The final pieces are as much about the paper imagery, as the emptiness and shadows cast beyond the work.
Baker is currently exhibited in the Arts OutWest touring exhibition, While the World Waits, and solo exhibitions in 2022 in Melbourne and Newcastle. Other recent projects include Shadowlands, (2023), Co-Curator, WAYOUT Art Space; Watch Your Step, 2023, Solo Exhibition at Maitland Regional Gallery; and an Artist Residency in 2023 in Kandos for Cementa24.
The Regional Futures team chatted to Laura about the development of her project (scroll down):
Tell us about the evolution of your concept through this creative development process
My original concept was an exploration of the changing architecture of regional towns and the ways in which architecture and design can impact an individual’s experience of life in community.
The Australian country town has been criticised for its unsympathetic design. Often higher value is placed on infrastructure than environmental conservation. Scarce funds are spread across large land, resulting in the reoccurring pothole during wet summers, and businesses closing due to drought, bushfire and flood. But though rarely relenting, adversity presses the spirit of the people. These are communities and homes and farms and livelihoods.
Over the past three years regional areas have seen an influx of new residents ‘escaping’ metropolitan centres. Demand for housing has risen and our streetscapes are changing with new developments, contemporary houses, shiny facilities.
A miscellany of builders will influence the aesthetic of the regional future, but it is the spirit of the people that must be preserved. Inside each home, on each street, are the people who will have the greatest impact on what the future of our regions will look like. It is their community values that will define us.
I opened submissions to residents of regional NSW asking that they share a photograph of their home along with some thoughts on how they exist within their regional community and what the idea of home means to them. I received 25 submissions from across the state, including my hometown of Blayney and as far away as Broken Hill.
After conversations with friends and community members I also noted a growing concern regarding the housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing in regional towns. I used this interest to supplement the submissions with real estate listings of recent sales across the state, collecting data on sale price and the year the house was built. This has assisted in being able to map the evolution of architecture over time, with the earliest house included being built in 1880, through to recent builds in 2021.
What experts/community members did you connect with during your creative development?
The majority of my conversations have been with friends and community members and the submissions I have received through the online form. I also participated in the online conversation series that ran in conjunction with the Regional Futures Stage 1. I found the thoughts submitted with photos of home particularly touching. Half of respondents had grown up in regional areas and half had moved from metropolitan areas. Two respondents wrote of people who had died in their homes, and how that affects the way they now live in the space.
Some selected responses include:“It is an extension of us and one day will be a home to our children.”“Home, like community, is made up of people.”“In the midst of such a populated space, no-one smiles and says hello, not on a walk, not in the street, and not on the bus. We feel a yearning to be back in the country, to escape the hustle and the bustle, the crowds and the noise, and we need to go back to where we started.”“Home. Home is a place that I can rest my soul. But this doesn’t feel like home. This is just four walls.”“My father died in this house and I will forever feel his soul as I move through my life.”“Growing up here I didn’t care what I had, but moving back after my twenties away has been eye opening to the golden prospects of a future here.”“This is where we brought her home to let her go.”
Describe where your work has reached in the development process and how you can see it progressing.
My development process consisted of more data sorting than I had expected but I have now developed a document outlining all the submissions, locations, prices and dates of the houses included in my project. There are houses from 51 regional towns across Australia, ranging in years from 1890 to 2021 and in price from $140,000 to $1,585,000. I have been able to map a clear change in the architecture over this period, with older homes exhibiting features such as verandahs and porches and newer houses exhibiting features such as garages and slim windows across the front. I am now in the process of cutting out the final houses and am then looking for opportunities to exhibit the work as a whole, and potentially continue the work through community workshops and further submission opportunities.
If you were to tell someone about the impact of Regional Futures and this creative development opportunity on your practice, what would you say to them?
Regional Futures has provided opportunity and space to consider how the regions are changing, participate in wonderful cross-sector conversations with other participants and guest speakers and produce a significant body of work that will lead to further opportunities in the future.
While my original concept has been proven through research and conversation, I have been drawn to consider other coinciding ideas such as the affordable housing crisis and rising property prices, and the idea of human-centric design and our responsibility through design not only to humans but to the ecosystem as a whole.