In mid-2022, artist Tania Hartigan (Wallabadah) and I were lucky enough to receive an art commission from Create NSW through the Regional Futures program, an artist-led program to envision the future of Regional NSW.
Tania and I applied to become part of the Regional Futures project with a theme of sustainability in mind for our collaboration, with the idea that regional NSW is uniquely placed to be leading the State in moving to a more sustainable society, securing our ultimate longevity. Within this frame, Tania and I were interested in exploring what "sustainability" means to regional Australians across different sectors including business, government and community, and how these groups see sustainability being achieved over time. To gather information around this issue, we put together a set of questions, inviting people within our networks to provide information on what sustainability means to them. (Many of the people reading this update will be one of those people, and we remain very grateful to you for kicking us off with your ideas!)
Tania and I received 68 responses to our survey. These were from locals with a mix of interests and backgrounds including people from the farming sector, arts groups, a climate action group, community volunteers, retirees, business people, elected local and State government officials, and friends who responded to the call-out on our Facebook pages. While responses varied, there was sense that most people's concept of "sustainability" was strongly connected with environmental issues. Respondents who emphasised environmental issues, in general, expressed some sense of urgency, believed that societal change was necessary to achieve sustainability and reasoned that this would require some sacrifices. In contrast, the elected leaders and business people who responded, conceptualised the term more broadly with a focus on the social and economic domains, and an understanding that the health of the environment (eg issues such as water security) underpins this social and economic wellbeing. They also believed that change would be required to achieve sustainability, and emphasised the role of wise and timely investments in order to achieve this change.
While our original question was about the differences we might find, we were also struck by the commonalities across responses. Themes across all responses included a hope for future generations that they would inherit a thriving planet, and the need for a shared sense of responsibility for the changes that were necessary. Tania and I have considered how we might use this common ground to move the conversation forward..
In approaching how to represent this in an artwork, I have enjoyed working with and learning from Tania's experience as a regenerative farmer and her perspectives as a Gamilaroi woman. From our conversations I have taken away a sense of the values of obligation, reciprocity and exchange which underpin her custodianship of Country. Through our collaboration, Tania and I have both sought to extend on our current practice. For me, this has led to 9 months of experimentation with paper mache as a medium - something that has transformed my practice and the types of artworks I produce, which have moved from a two dimensional space into three dimensional. Some of my experimentation and exploration of waste paper as a sustainable media is pictured below. The paper used in most of these artworks is newsend - the unprinted end of roll from the Northern Daily Leader, with a bit of tissue paper stuffing from a new school bag purchase. During the last year I have also moved from using PVA based glues, to making my own glue with flour and water.
In the next phase of the collaboration I will try to apply the skills I have developed through working with paper mache, to handmade papers created from natural and gathered materials. Tania has been making her own papers and inks for some time using vegetation from across her property. Using handmade papers, we will be aiming to create some works of art that will represent and “hold” the shared conversational themes and hopes for the future expressed by the community through our survey and initial conversations.
The final artworks will be included in an exhibition at Casula Powerhouse in Western Sydney, which will open in June 2023. An official opening on 21 - 22 July will include a symposium of artists from across NSW who will present their work, and make possible an in-depth exploration of the topics that have emerged as focal points of the exhibition. As an artist-led event, artists will be at the forefront of the conversations about the future.
This has been an exciting opportunity! A big thank you to all of those behind the Regional Futures project, and a big thank you to all of you, for being a part of, and following our journey. You never know what magic a simple idea will spark - watch this space!