Interview – Alana Wesley – Australia

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Which media do you prefer? Installation, performance, sculpture?

Ultimately, I see myself as a cross disciplinary artist whom works across all of these mediums (and sometimes more…film and photography are increasingly being incorporated into my practice). Before I was an artist I was working in theatre; so performance comes most naturally to me. Yet, it’s really installation that I adore. Unlike performance, installation takes me out of my comfort zone- building does not come naturally to me- but I think this means I am all the more invested, and proud, of my installation based work. When I think back, I was always fascinated by installation, even when I was a kid. I recall being fourteen and going to the exhibition of American installation artists Edward and Nancy Kienholz at the MCA in Sydney almost every day over the course of a week. I remember thinking that ya, this installation thing is amazing. I want in.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

I want to create situations where people can reflect upon the minutiae of their ordinary lives- the common spaces, the basic objects, the archetypes, the actions and the small dreams that make up their day to day. I am fascinated by the endless narratives that can be told through the curation of everyday objects in different spatial contexts. Most notably, there is a huge focus upon the creation of visual puns and dark ironies within my practice. I always say that I want people to experience my work in three steps. First, I try to create a sense of familiarity within the viewer by presenting a character, an object or a space they can recognize (ie a typical domestic place). Secondly, I stage a scenario within this space that will, hopefully, make them laugh. But when they walk away from the work, I want them to feel deeply uncomfortable; like they’re not sure whether they should continue laughing, or start crying. My work that I have created here in Belgrade is a little less pathos-ridden, but there are still some tragicomic moments in it.

You use a lot of different objects in your works. Do you consider yourself a collector? Could you speak to us about the poetics of those things?

If anything, I would say I’m anthropological in my approach, particularly in regards to my fascination with material culture. It is quite common in this discipline to collect the most basic of paraphernalia, like cutlery for instance, and decode it in ways that can catalyze huge realizations in regards to how past civilizations lived. I do the same; just in a contemporary sense. I think this is how I try to bring out the poetry of objects; not just by collecting them, but by placing unnoticed paraphernalia in situations where they will be noticed. For instance, in my Trace/Place project I have picked up a lot of things that would usually be seen as rubbish. By giving each item an acquisition number and placing them in perspex boxes, people are made to look at them in a new way. The objects become artefacts; they can tell us something about the bigger cultural picture.

Could you tell about the process of collecting, creation and installing your works? How long does it take to move from an idea to an installation?

I work quickly and obsessively. I basically immerse myself in a project so much that my whole mind can be “in” its’ world. I am very planned, or as much as I can be. I endlessly collect objects, do research, watch documentaries, go on field visits, then come back to my project and edit the pile of stuff I have been constantly accumulating. After sourcing the objects and finishing any video and sound components, I usually plan the spatial element of my work; how things are going to be laid out, measurements, and what tools are needed. Given the large scale I usually work in, everything tends to be site specific. This means that I, usually, cannot pre fabricate my work.  After my work is shown, I have no place to store it. Sometimes I save the objects, but the installation part is almost always destroyed due to size constraints. 

What or who made you interested in Yugoslavia and its history?

Admittedly, I went from knowing next to nothing about Yugoslavian history to binging on historical theory about Yugoslavia in the space of a few weeks. What really fascinated me was how little we know, at least in Australia, about a lot of former Yugoslavian countries (when I said I was going on residency to Serbia I got a few people asking why I was going to Siberia). This gap in our knowledge was what really prompted me to delve further into my research.  Sometimes I would talk to people who did know about Yugoslavia, but the associations of the war were what immediately sprung to their minds. After reading books that really looked at that tumultuous period of the late 80s/early 90s from an insider perspective (such as Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Stefanovic), and talking with some Serbian Australians, it gave me a much more intricate view about Yugoslavian (and Post-Yugoslavian) culture.  It made me want to shift the stereotypical narrative that has stayed, fixed in our minds, about the Balkans. Instead, I wanted to engage with contemporary objects and stories that could inform us; not about the past, but about the beauties and the issues being faced by an ex- Yugoslavian country in the present.

How did you decide to come to Belgrade and do your project here? 

I wanted to explore “contemporary ruins”, and it was actually with an Athenian based residency that I first pitched my idea. The plan was initially to collect abandoned objects left by tourists near iconic Grecian ruins (the Acropolis etc.) and exhibit them as artefacts. The work was going to be humorous in nature. But then I had an idea to do something more complex- what about doing a project in a place that focuses on ruins which are not ancient and literal, but relatively modern and lateral? These ideas were what brought me to the Balkans. I thought the former capital of Yugoslavia was a perfect place to undertake my study, hence my coming to Belgrade and ultimately accepting this residency over that offered by the Grecian institute.

Your impressions of Belgrade? How do you like it?

I did not anticipate how hot it was going to be! And I’m Australian, so you think I’d be used to that. Thankfully, I love summer. I think that Belgrade, whilst not being the most beautiful city, has a lot of fire and spirit. Which means it’s a great place to make art in. A lot of people here seem to have a blunt, no bullshit attitude, which is actually very refreshing.

Your message to an artist who wishes to come to Belgrade…

Try, if you can, to learn some Serbian. English can only get you so far here and I really wish my language skills were more expansive so I could interact with people better (but don’t worry too much).  Definitely check out some of the Belgrade Artist run initiatives, such as KC Grad and Kvaka 22. And please, try Smoki (unless you’re allergic to peanuts).