By Kaia Wallis
Port Lincoln artist Karen Carr is splashing colour on unlikely places in the Eyre Peninsula; from toilet blocks to park benches, the artist’s public art installations are energising ordinary spaces and forging connections in regional communities.
The self-taught artist works with natural materials – often stone and timber – to create murals, benches and other public artworks that reflect on the history, community and wildlife of regional towns in South Australia.
“My aim for each project is for it to have a long life engaging the community, helping spark conversations and connections between each other, nature and beyond,” says Karen, who is behind art business Squashed Cocky.
One of Karen’s unlikely rejuvenations – a toilet block in the Eyre Peninsula town of Cummins – took home an award in the 2018 International Toilet Tourism Awards.
The Cummins mosaic loo was one of six international award winners in the competition and won the gong for Best Economic Contributor.
As lead artist for the project, Karen says she worked with the local community to develop a “fun and funky installation” with roots to the Cummins historic railway.
The toilet block features mosaic benches in the shape of luggage and historic images reflecting the town’s railway heritage.
Karen believes the revitalised space has helped attract media attention and increase the tourism in the town.
“Art is a great way to attract people to a town, especially when it is something authentic and unique that celebrates something special about the area,” she says.
“The Cummins loos are a great example of what art can do for a community, they are world famous.”
When looking for inspiration Karen says she is drawn to native wildlife and its ties to the region, although she tries to explore lesser-known creatures through her artwork.
“There are many well-known birds and animals but I’m always searching for the quiet achievers and the untold stories,” she says.
One art piece exploring native wildlife is The Twitchers Trail, a community art project brought to Karen by the Ungarra Progress Association in Ungarra, 60km from Port Lincoln.
The finished installation sits between towns Lipson and Ungarra and consists of four mosaic panels reflecting the importance of the region’s local ecosystem and wildlife.
Throughout the project Karen worked closely with local community members to offer weekly mosaic workshops and these classes soon became a creative learning hub for local students.
“When we started the children told us there were only three different birds at their school… sparrows, magpies and wattlebirds,” she says.
“In the process, they discovered 29 different species and could identify them all by name.”
Creating personal connections with communities has proved fundamental to Karen, who encourages locals to get involved in the creation process and strives to create art installations that resonate with the community.
“Public art gets people talking, but community public art gets people talking and listening to each other, it’s a great way to connect the community and encourage pride and ownership in a town,” Karen says.
“Each public installation has become loved and valued not only by the community but also by many visitors who often post comments and photos on social media.”
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