For Verse Magazine’s regular Imagine segment, Oliver White met UniSA Contemporary Arts third year Kathryn Ellison.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re studying?
My name is Kathryn Ellison and I’m in my third-year of studying a Bachelor of Contemporary Art. I went into this course thinking I wouldn’t be pursuing a career in the industry. Originally, I wanted to do social work, but my brain doesn’t really cope with that. I’m too much of a creative person. I did art throughout high school, but hated it. However, once I left, there was this huge shift in me and I became really attached to the idea of becoming an artist. One of my biggest turning points came after a trip to New Zealand, where I visited some of their art galleries. I was particularly moved by this installation by Lee Mingwei. It actually brought me to tears. The audience had to write a letter telling something you regret saying to a person. This piece allowed me to realise that art isn’t just about a pretty picture—it can actually have this impact on you. I try to live by this sort of model whenever I’m creating something.
What are some of the themes you explore in your work?
One of the main themes I explore is feminism, especially when it comes to my collage work. I tend to create pieces about being a woman and how society makes you feel a certain way about your reproductive system. More specifically, with how women are made to feel as though they have to be on contraceptives—it’s really frustrating to me. A lot of my other artworks deal with the everyday mundane, and exploring the connections between people.
Who are some of your major influences in both art and life?
I’m really compelled by old horror—there’s just something about how timeless it is. I also really love Del Kathryn Barton, as she’s worked with so many mediums, like collage and textile. She’s also done some really good short films revolving around femininity. And of course, there’s Lee Mingwei too!
What’s your latest obsession?
Scrubs. I’ve been watching a lot of Scrubs recently (laughs). No, I’ve been weaving a lot, and my studio project focuses on this technique too. It’s really fascinating to me. I’ve also been weirdly interested by nail art. There’s so much precision that goes into it and I find it interesting how people put so much dedication into the appearance of their nails.
Your work always has incredible detail with multiple mediums. How do you know when to step back and say you’re finished?
I never really know, because a lot of the time I need someone to tell me when to stop. It’s difficult, especially when it comes to my collages. Sometimes, I feel as though I have to take it further and further. Interestingly enough, I had a lecturer last year who told me to go crazy with a piece I had been working on. I don’t know if this was some kind of reverse psychology, but I was like ‘hold up, let’s cut this to make it more polished,’ and it ended up looking a lot better than I intended.
Could you tell us a bit little about Art Pod? Have you ever worked on something at such a large scale before?
Art Pod is part of the city council and showcases some of Adelaide’s emerging and established practitioners. I’m part of an exhibition with them at the moment called Beyond All Disposition, which is curated by Jack McBride, Christina Massolino and ChiChi Grasby. Jack was actually the one to reach out to me about it initially. My part of the exhibition is all about the subconscious and how someone might create art using it. I’ve found that Art Pod is a really odd place to work in, as you’re so exposed to the public. It makes you feel a bit vulnerable, because you worry about how others might be judging your work. Especially since my art is probably considered to be a bit out there for some people. In saying that, this is the first time I’ve ever worked on such a large scale. I’ve found the experience to be really rewarding and I’m so thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me.
What advice would you give to first-year Kathryn?
Keep at it. Don’t be too worried about what other people think and don’t ever feel as though you’re obligated to please everybody. Just be your most authentic self and be true to who you are.
What are your plans after graduation?
Well, I’m hoping (fingers crossed) to get a job with Fringe Festival, and save enough money so I can travel to Dark Mofo in Tasmania. But then again, I’m just wanting a job in the art sector. Whether that means I’m doing bar work for exhibition openings, or doing workshops, I’m honestly not too fussed. I also want to move out eventually to get my own space. I think Adelaide has such a wonderful arts community and I want to be contributing to that in whichever way I can. I’d also like to do some type of internship, or residency, in Tasmania. In saying this though, I feel like Adelaide will always be my home—it’s just really beautiful here.
Interview conducted by Oliver White
Artwork by Kathryn Ellison
Photography by Austin Carr
This piece was originally published in Edition 29.