On the Couch with Leisa Shelton

Leisa-Shelton-photo-by-Alex-TalamoWho is Leisa Shelton?
I am an artist – mother – holder of space – maker, collaborator, teacher and activator. I am continuously changing my artform and the direction of my practice in response to cultural questions that draw me to them. You could say “I am what the work requires me to be.”

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I try to stay in the work that is happening NOW, so don’t dwell in “What If’. Every project good, difficult, surprising, challenging, has taught me something, opened new directions or new collaborations that I could never have planned – If anything, I would like to be more courageous and continue opening myself to new opportunities beyond what I am doing now.

Who inspires you and why?
I am inspired by those who are courageous, those who change the way we see or experience the world and cause us to question, take action, get involved and connect with others through their work. I am particularly inspired by the Australian artists who continue to mark us with their audacity, rigor and extraordinary practices – artists  like Jill Orr, Stelarc, Rosalie Gasgoine, Pat Brassington, Barbara Campbell, Marie Clarke, Julie Vulcan, SJ Norman, Simryn Gill … to name a few.

I am also inspired by many of these artists continuing to make work into their 70s/80s continuing to break new ground and provoke new perspectives. I love the idea of our best work potentially happening in the later years of our life.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I think great change happens from the ground up – and so education matters! Equal access matters. It’s time to create better models of education so our children experience diversity, difference, relationships with Elders and First nations knowledge from the beginning of their schooling – not just in the classroom but in the way schools enable children to make choices, ask great questions and know that their curiosity matters. Teachers should be the most valued members of our society – if they were, so much more would be possible.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I don’t travel for holidays – have had the complete privilege of travelling with my work to some extraordinary places – working within local communities – so living in gorgeous cities like Venice, Berlin and Taipei for several weeks at a time. These three cities have held some of the most exquisite experiences – so they are favourites.

Holidays for me are when I get extended time at home, with my family, garden and books. I have recently moved to regional Victoria and being there, walking, getting to know our local area is a joy. My next ‘holiday’ will be there!

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I love hosting other artists in Melbourne and have held many great long dinners with guests at my house. I also love meeting them in the city and walking through laneways to small somewhat hidden bars like Double Happiness, Bijou, or Gin Palace showing them the many great independent galleries – like Blindside, which involves going into the beautiful Nicholson Building, having coffee in tucked away places and really sharing this great city with them so they feel a sense of having been introduced to its more intimate life.

If we’re having breakfast I take them to CIBI in Collingwood or Auction Room in North Melbourne for the best breakfast boards.

What are you currently reading?
Whoever I am reading is like a companion, sharing ideas and world views and experience that in turn inspire and give me courage in my own work – they offer a conversation and perspectives that are constantly informing my day.

Currently I am reading a lot of nonfiction – on my desk and beside the bed at the moment are Robert MacFarlane – The Wild Places, Kim Mahood – Wandering with Intent, the poet David Whyte’s essays on Work, and poet Warsan Shire who is one of my recent discoveries – fierce and brilliant! I’m also re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide To Getting Lost –  not for the first time.

What are you currently listening to?  
For the last few months, I have been working in my studio doing very detailed work for hours on end – so music has been a constant. It can give rhythm and clarity to my work as well as creating space for new ideas and expansive thinking.

I am currently moving between Nils Frahm, Aldous Harding, Tindersticks, Meg Myers and a great band I recently discovered working in Cyprus – Monsieur Doumani.

Happiness is?
Loving and Being Loved. Seeing my children thrive and bring so much to this world. It’s knowing I am of service to many communities and individuals through my work and the way I lead my life.

It’s gathering people around food – holding space – inviting strangers and diverse communities to my table and making space for the brilliance and courage of the next generation.

What does the future hold for you?
Next I will be working with the State Library of Victoria as part of their Fellowship program to design a series of public works around Braille and the need for greater visibility and advocacy for Braille as a living language.

Like the current exhibition, this is a project focused on my arts practice creating public awareness and inclusion in the ways we can all contribute to society by asking critical questions and designing models for change.

I will also be working on a series of publications on the exhibition and Ephemeral Archives and of course, staying curious about the projects ahead that I don’t even know about yet!!

Leisa presents Archiving The Ephemeral – the major outcome of Shelton’s artist in residence at the Abbotsford Convent: 14 – 22 April 2023. For more information, visit: www.abbotsfordconvent.com.au for details.

Image: Leisa Shelton – photo by Alex Talamo