Alana Wilson

As we enter lockdown again on the Northern Beaches, Alana Wilson’s work inspires us to look closer at nature and our immediate surroundings.

Looking at Wilson’s ceramics is akin to looking into the ocean. At first, you notice the movement and texture, but the longer you stay with it, the more the details and depth grow from the seemingly vastness. Falling into the poetic category of soft minimalism – a movement that cherishes the slow and meaningful aspects of the everyday – Wilson’s ceramics invites conscious thought of the complexities of reduction.

Wilson’s work focuses on the vessel or functional object with a process that has been described as alchemy or a re-earthing of fossilised material – using the classic forms to explore surface, material and process. ‘I’m trying to explore some of the things that I always look at that might not be as evident to the viewer,’ she explains. ‘Gesture, touch, surface, material, and the process of working with clay – not just the objecthood of the end piece.’

The artist moved to Sydney’s Northern Beaches two years ago seeking a change of pace and scenery. Removing herself from the urgency of the city has allowed her to refocus on the artistry of her practice instead of the more commercial aspects of ceramics. Wilson is now engaging a different conversation – one that has developed in the last year mired by Covid lockdowns and restrictions. A time of reflection has washed over her studio in Curl Curl, focusing at what can be explored in the current situation without travel and commitments.

‘It forced me to slow down and meant that I had more time and space to think about things a little differently,’ shares Wilson. ‘I’ve been able to use the last six to eight months to hit pause on some of those more commercial projects and focus on what I want out of my practice.’

Alongside her art practice, Wilson also teaches swimming, which allows her balance and opportunities to engage with different audiences. She comments, ‘It is important to feel connected to your community and the people around you. Especially swimming, I’ve done it my whole life and taught it during my early studies. So, it’s been a part of the process as well.’

As swimming classes were cancelled in lockdown, Wilson was redeployed to different areas as an employee of the Northern Beaches Council. Here, the artist found herself connecting with her immediate landscape, a source of ever-changing, temporal emotions. ‘We were helping with dune regeneration, planting trees, and bushes as well as library book deliveries; I started really thinking about the history of the Northern Beaches, and I did a lot of research into what it was like years ago before colonisation,’ she explains. ‘I started taking a lot of videos and looking at a lot of aspects of nature and how it would change over time – I started to bring that into my work.’

Engaging this research and found material from nature, Wilson uses her surroundings – the beach only moments away from her studio. Sand can be used to protect kiln shelves from glaze; shells will leave a mark – they can be used as a tool. ‘I’ve started to bring more of those elements into my process, so actually mixing sand in with the glaze and leaving shell imprints on purpose as evidence,’ she adds.

Ideas are generated simultaneously as making; watching the process develop in one series can influence the next. There are multiple ongoing cycles, as each piece could take a month or longer, with collections taking up to two years to be fully resolved. These bodies of work inform each other. ‘With Covid, I’ve been able to draw out the process time a little bit longer and have more time to sit with ideas,’ she shares. ‘Your process starts to become what your work is about, as well.’

Wilson’s practice is also grounded in time, something she became aware of during the travel restrictions when she was unable to travel to Japan for her solo exhibition ‘Planets, Mercies, & The Flow (惑星、慈愛、そして絶間ない流れ)’, at Gallery Crossing, Minokamo. At first, she wanted to postpone the exhibition, but on reflection, the collection was meant to be seen in 2020. ‘The connection of your practice to the world is always relevant; when I’m making works, that is my way of working through how I perceive the world and where I want it to go.’

Hopefully, 2021 will bring a residency in Mallorca, Spain, at the Potter’s House. Here Wilson wants to focus on the simplicity of the island and house itself, honouring the earthy yet refined interiors of the ceramicist Maria Antonia Carrio’s former home and studio. The Potter’s House is an ode to a natural palette, allowing Wilson to explore the raw materiality of clay, light against gesture, and imprint.

Essential to the movement of soft minimalism is a consideration of the value of objecthood. But Wilson questions and encourages her viewer to consider art that influences through a butterfly effect in art history – she points out the classic case of Van Gogh, who was never appreciated in his lifetime. ‘If you look back in history, there are important moments, and not always the most significant ones at the time, but then if they’re strung together, they stand out as turning points.’

‘I know a lot of artists have gone through that thought process of, why am I making this?’ Wilson considers. ‘Some of my favourite artists have gone through the same thing. And so, I question, what would my practice be like if that artist didn’t actually make that work? I think all of those ideas that have been worked through and then put out into the world, that’s still important.’

Even though Wilson is moving away from functional objecthood, she still recognises the value of the vessel in cultures and history across the world. Her works allow for a piece of art to become part of the everyday. Her practice is embodied within what the form feels like, looks like, or the sense you get from it. Time and chance feed into her works; each gesture inviting a particular look, or feeling, into the process. But they also encourage us to think about nature, our connection to it, grounding us in place and time.

This article is sponsored by the Northern Beaches Council as part of the series ‘Documenting Art in the Time of Corona.’

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