Artist Lauren Baker talks to Culturalee as she prepares to reveal her mystical new Totem Tribe Dolls at London Art Fair. Through her multi-disciplinary holistic practice, Lauren explores symbolism, metaphysics, higher realms of consciousness and communes with nature and the elements.
Lauren has exhibited at prestigious British arts institutions including The V&A, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, and more recently she has gone global and scaled up her artistic practice with site-specific installations at Burning Man, in the Saudi Arabian desert and her latest at twenty-five metre tall in Abu Dhabi.
She made a name for herself with bold neon art through which she channels the power of energy with poetic typography and celestial chakras. Lauren is passionate about the environment and her artistic practice is sustainable, using light to express the ‘secrets of the universe’. Her work is created at the intersection of art and spirituality, and she often references the natural and spirit worlds, passions that were ignited after spending time with tribes in the Amazon jungle in 2011.
Culturalee: How do you define culture?
Lauren Baker: Culture is a community consciousness, an energy that connects humanity. Shared experiences, values and symbols can identify belonging within a group. It involves all forms of collective expression – whether it be art, dance, music, work, life and love – all that can be felt and shared – a collective consciousness.
You’re working on some new Totem Doll sculptures for London Art Fair in January. Where did your interest in Totemic emblems as art installations stem from?
My Totem Tribe are inspired by archetypes, symbolism, tarot, charms, amulets and talisman. I am captivated by objects of spiritual significance such as ancient artefacts from the Palaeolithic era, and ‘luck’ dolls, particularly Venusof Willendorf goddess doll and Ashanti fertility dolls. Inspiration also came from ancient megalithic symbols including stone henge, and the piled stones of Inukshuks, and so much more.
Early inspiration stemmed from when my dad worked in Africa for two years when I was aged 6 and I visited Ghana for durations of a month at a time. Here I found and collected Ashanti fertility and ‘luck’ dolls and came to understand at an early age the meaning and power of spiritual objects. During childhood my dad also encouraged me and my two brothers to collect Guatemalan ‘worry dolls’ and put them under our pillows to be free from worry, as legend told.
The female totem titled’ Visionary Mystic Totem’ wears a crown to signify that the woman is the leader of the Matriclan. My dad is a feminist and I grew up understanding that our patriarchal society was one version of reality which came to be and was not the only way. Im obsessed with symbolism. A symbol is a window to the essence of things, a perfect way to explore the unseen. Totems are mystical objects of spiritual significance, and like an amulet, a charm or a talisman, totem dolls can be collected for luck, for protection, and for attracting in something special.
Totem Tribe launch at @londonartfair via @commensensegallery, booth 29.
17 – 21 Jan 2024 (VIP PV 16 Jan).
The art installations, neons and textile works you create all seem to be rooted in spirituality, feminism or mantras of positivity. For example your ‘Do you want to change the world with me’ installation in London, the ‘Luna Woman Power ‘Totem sculpture that was revealed in London on International Women’s Day in 2022, and the ‘Wisdom Totems’ at Burning Man in summer. Do you find inspiration in any particular religions or spiritual practices, and how do you channel spirituality into your art?
Through my exploration of symbolism and totems, spirituality is at the heart of it. I am not confined to the walls of any particular religion or doctrine. I guess I have the universal human longing to connect with something greater than that of ourselves.
Sometimes people ask me, where did I study (art), and I say, In the Amazon jungle with tribes. Art and spirituality are entwined for me.
During a long trip to South America in 2011, I sat with tribes, listening to the wisdom of the elders. We sat in ritual, passing on stories, and using tools to reach higher states of consciousness. The tools and objects included; smudging sage and palo santo, crystals used for prayer, face painting as ritual, plant medicines, and the use of a ‘talking stick’ to name just a few. Each tribe tended to adopt their own symbols that encapsulated their beliefs and prayers. These learnings are absorbed into my practice and artwork and contributed enormously to my appreciation of objects with spiritual significance.
Everything is energy. I try to be consistent with my morning rituals of meditation, writing, and kundalini yoga to get me in a peak state of mind. This is when I get natural highs and creative downloads.
Earlier on in your career you worked on relatively small scale neons and prints, compared to the vast sculptural installations you’ve been creating recently – for example your ‘Wisdom Totems’ at Burning Man, and ‘Frequency of the Sun’ installation in the Saudi Arabian desert in 2020. How did you scale up your art to such monumental installations, and does it take a huge team and huge amount of work to make art on such a big scale?
In 2017 I studied ‘Site Specific Installations’. I realised that all I needed to do was get on with it and go big. In 2019 I made my first large work, a 10m letter in the form of sound waves on a scroll at Tate Modern. It was an apology for the destruction that humans have caused to the planet. Once I got the energetic download that big was possible, I kept designing and proposing large works.
Going large takes courage and belief, and for me it is vital to remain experimental. I’m constantly evolving and I love what I do. Out of all the mediums and forms that I create, large scale public art is my favourite. It’s the most challenging and the most rewarding. Each piece is unique and has a relationship with the setting – whether it’s in nature or a concrete jungle. Placing light and metal work outside in extreme desert heat or in freezing UK winters involves critical thinking. When working in large scale, health and safety is key, so I have a trusted team working with architects and structural engineers. It does take a village when working large scale! Every location has its own challenges, and yet it’s the most rewarding feeling to see it come to fruition and enjoy watching people appreciate the design, interact with the art, or just stand in awe of the scale.
You have exhibited widely in the UAE, including your UNESCO commission in Saudi Arabia and your recent 25 metre installation at the Kintsugi club in Abu Dhabi. How did you start collaborating with organisations in the UAE, and do you think the Middle East is the new international art world centre?
I’ve been on artist for 12 years now and working in large scale since my first ten metre installation at Tate Modern in 2019. I get approached by private collectors, royal groups, agents, councils and brands with a brief and I’m asked to submit ideas.
Parts of the Middle East are changing very fast. The rapid expansion, the futuristic vision and the commissioning of large scale artworks makes it an exciting place in the world right now. To be a female artist commissioned in these parts shows that attitudes are changing.
Do you have any tips for young artists starting out on their career? There are so many artists how do you make yourself noticed and make an impact when social media platforms such as instagram are saturated with art?
As an artist its your job to stay inspired, which means taking time off to do cool stuff so that your brain is juicy with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Don’t waste energy comparing your creative journey with others, or wanting everyone to like what you are doing, so long as you like it, go for it. People will get lit up by your passion and enthusiasm, so don’t hold back. For creative flow, my favourite book is Julia Cameron – ‘The Artists Way’.
Make your pro art journey as smooth as possible by utilising technology – I use planoly for instagram planning, Trello, Asana, Slack to organise, Xero for accounts, Art logic as a database for recording my art and editions all over the world. I’d be lost without these tools.
Having a clear vision about who I am and knowing my values really helped me to connect with people. If people believe in you and your story they will be more keen to invest in your art. Then you repay that faith with consistent levelling up of work and being totally fearless. To get in a flow state, I have ‘blue sky thinking’ brain storms to spark ideas from an anything is possible state of mind.