Shona Wilson has been working as an artist for more than 20 years. Based in Sydney, she creates works utilising found objects in nature. Her latest exhibition is currently showing at Arthouse Gallery, until 1 October.
Read Shona’s original interview on Daily Imprint. Today she shares some insights into her daily art practice.
Describe a typical working day
It has changed quite a lot over the years, and it varies throughout the year as I now have quite a diverse art practice. I need this diversity to have a sustainable art practice. I could be either creating/marketing and facilitating a workshop or doing ephemeral art outdoors or meeting with collaborators or working in the studio or out collecting, or a bit of everything in one day.
Once upon a time 12-15 hour studio days were not unusual, now I work 6–8 hours, depending on how close the deadline is for any particular project. I have consistently worked from home and I need a lot of sleep - I reckon I must be working while I sleep. A studio workday gets going by 9am 5-6 days a week. After a few exercises, a quick meditation and breakfast I check emails and social media. If it’s a nice day or it’s been too long - like a week - I will go for a quick dip in the ocean. By 10am I am downstairs in the studio making work through till 1 or 2pm. Lunch and then back in the studio until 5, 6, 7. Dinner then relax or do admin or research in the office. By 10pm I am back in bed and reading. Generally collecting found materials is part of everyday life, like going to the shop, a stroll, a dip at the beach or in my garden. It does not have to be an exotic location to find materials – they are everywhere. After 25 years I have amassed enough to use for quite a while so am deliberately not collecting unless I need something specific. I have relied mostly upon serendipity.
What are your preferred tools, materials and equipment?
For studio work: found natural materials, hand tools, tweezers and some ex-surgical and dentistry tools, dremmel, Blu-tac, and glues, as non-toxic as possible. A big bench indoors, lots of shelving, an outdoor covered area for sanding and drilling and a freezer.
For ephemeral work: outdoors anywhere in nature, the elements, time, movement, shadows, and the camera in my phone.
For workshops: people, a park or garden and whatever we find.
Collaborative projects and conversations are also great tools and materials to work with.
How do you dress for your job?
In the studio I wear the same thing every day pretty much. The most comfortable, old and “dirty” work clothes, a face mask and glasses. Sensibly for workshops, and any public engagements are a chance to dress up.
What is the current state of your desk or creative space?
My studio is full of packaging material and boxes ready for transporting the works for my current solo show in Sydney. I am freezing materials in a large domestic freezer and generally tidying and packing up. The studio is about to become a storage room for when my partner and I go away for a few months. It has to be a flexible space. There are also hundreds of recycled containers of one kind or another storing all the different processed materials and outside some larger bones and twigs ready to be cleaned.
When I do ephemeral artworks my creative space extends to anywhere I find myself, that could be a car park or a national park.
When I facilitate workshops the creative space is someone’s garden, a park or a school. If I really think about it my creative space has to be everywhere/anywhere I am. My office is very much a workspace too. It is separate from the studio - it’s too dusty and dirty for electronic equipment - and it’s good to change it up. The office has the usual electronic stuff with a lot of notes, lists and paperwork strewn and pinned across every surface. I have quite a lot of my favourite little images and objects in this space because they cannot fit in the studio and they make me happy or encouraged.
What's your approach to managing technology - from emails to social media?
Huge question - as it seems it has taken over my life at times. Management is the right word. I try to limit email correspondence to twice daily - if it runs off the page I tend to forget about it. Social media is on and off during the entire day. The past three years I have been quite engaged with social media, due to the One A Day ephemeral art project I devised. I find social media both tiring and rewarding at different times. I am not a super social or techy person so it is not a “natural” behaviour for me.
Admin and technology has more than filled valuable “empty spaces” in my day. I need to regulate and deliberately disengage at times. It can just become a habit rather than productive. Since I live rurally I find the connectivity an antidote to isolation fatigue. Instagram can be a magic portal into the kaleidoscope (collide-o-scope) of humanity – pretty wonderful really. But because social media is a disembodied form of communication, for me it errs on the unreal and is more like fantasy.
When and what do you have for lunch?
At home: 1-2pm. Rice cakes with miso, avocado, salad and some protein, a healthy sweet treat and cup of tea or two.
Out and about: 1-3pm. Nori rolls or salad. Thermos of tea. Apple
What's your preferred pick-me-up?
Tea, and lots of it. If I can get out of the house, a swim or a walk. I am lucky to live in a small village by lakes and ocean and forest so that’s not too difficult.
How do you combat physical or creative lulls?
Being in nature, visiting friends and exhibitions are all rejuvenating.
Adapting and evolving my practice to find a way of working that is sustainable is very much part of managing those lulls. A lot of art-making for me has entailed repetitive process. It is very time-consuming and results in being locked into very few movements for many hours. This is my greatest struggle – the physical. I now try to pick or create projects that offer some variety, physical and mental and spiritual. It’s all about balance – just like everyone else.
I started facilitating workshops to combat the physical impact of the studio-based work. This is also a wonderful way to connect with the general public. The ephemeral One A Day project I did daily for approximately 500 days from 2013-15 was a huge creative boost. With this project I rediscovered how to play and have inspired quite a few others to do so too, which is very rewarding.
I am experiencing a bit of burn out at the moment but I am about to take a much-needed and long-desired break to rejuvenate in the Himalayas.
What role does silence or sound play in your day?
Great question! Interestingly, sound has come into focus for me lately as another material in itself. I would like to start working with and incorporating sound into my work somehow. Even in my current show Offering - some of the works are representations of sound patterns. I hope to use sounds in another upcoming show, a collaborative Art + Science Project called Ku-ring-gai pH, which opens this December at MAGM. I have also been experimenting with sound and children with Quirindi Preschool where I have an ongoing creative relationship.
Sound is everywhere all the time and I have tinnitus so it’s never completely silent. When I am surrounded by nature I prefer its sound to anything else. But variety and diversity is good too. Sound is different to music and both can become noise. In the studio, which is currently in a suburb, I use the radio to mask cars and lawn mowers and chainsaws, etc. The music I listen to is usually ambient and calming. Sometimes I play nature sounds and any “world music” is usually energising in a peaceful way. Loudness of any kind is disturbing to work with, but sometimes when I am really in the zone or flow anything could be happening noise-wise and I wouldn’t notice it. Smell is a different matter! Sound is extremely important especially because is can be so subconscious and can affect emotions so profoundly. I suppose I use sound to alter or maximise mood or harmony in my environment if I can.
What's the last thing you do before finishing work for the day?
Get out of the work clothes and have a shower.
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