Artist Laura Wills has recently moved into Central Studios’ new home, a former industrial warehouse in King William St, Kent Town. It’s a generous space, housing around a dozen artists, with natural light, high ceilings and common areas. Laura is thrilled to be part of this new space where she creates drawings, paintings and prints. But her studio is not her only working space – she can also be found outdoors, collaborating on community garden projects or hosting guided walks along urban creeks.
Laura describes her artistic approach as an expanded practice. Her focus and passions are in the land and environment, and she often works with scientists, ethicists, gardeners and educators. It is a way of working which has been gathering momentum across the arts in Australia and overseas for several years now, where the process of participation and collaboration is as important to the artist as the outcome in the gallery or exhibition space.
A delightful example of this is ‘Dear Golden Delicious’, which Laura produced when she was the SALA 2015 artist in residence at Adelaide Central Market. Creating a cardboard garden in the markets, Laura invited people to write letters to their favourite fruits and vegetables. Posted amongst the garden on cardboard leaves, these homages included small portions of sweetness such as “Dear carrot, I hope you grow tall” and “Dear onion, you are into everything”. For this work, Laura created the fertile ground and the audience added the context and content.
Wills is particularly interested in projects that are informed by ecological issues and in May 2017 she created ‘Creek Lore’, a guided walk along First Creek between Marryatville High School and Tusmore Park. The public was invited to engage with the local environment and hear stories of the creek as it flows through public and private land. Marryatville High School students also made temporary installations along the way, created from flotsam and jetsam and local natural materials found in the creek.
Back in the studio, Laura has been working on a more somber collaboration with photographer James Tylor. ‘Frontier Wars’ is based on harrowing colonial maps which depict battle lines drawn by the English against Indigenous Australians. Using images of country photographed by James as a foundation layer, Laura then re-draws the colonial maps creating a merging and re-working of the relationship between the original inhabitants, their land and the colonisers. The first series of this project was exhibited at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale and in January 2018 the next iteration will be shown at the London Photo Fair.
In addition to these many projects, Laura manages to make time to pursue her solo career. For FRAN Fest in September 2017 she created five portraits of prominent female farmers, and she recently won the Hahndorf Academy Adelaide Hills Arts Prize for her work ‘Fall’. She also exhibits with Hill Smith Gallery, which is an important part of her practice and with whom she has developed a relationship built on mutual respect and support. Sales through the gallery are an important source of income for her, but as she says, “The climate is tough for commercial galleries.”
Asked whether she feels that she needs to leave Adelaide to further her career, she responds that she loves the artistic community in South Australia and is continually inspired by the many creative people living and working here. With a partner and 2 young children, she is committed to remaining part of this community, to staying busy and “…getting lost in the beauty of art”.
First published in The Adelaide Review, Issue 455.