May 6, 2020 Michelle Phương Ting

STUDIO VISIT: Allana Clarke on matrilineage, skin, and bodily language

On my last studio visit with Allana Clarke, we talked about matrilineal connection, material as skin, bodily language, and the ambivalence she has with words at this stage in her process.

MICHELLE: Could you share about how your process is developing?

ALLANA: I’ve started to use this product called “Black Beauty.” Like skin, I need to moisturize the material continually. As you get closer to the piece, you see the variations–some parts are matte, some are shinier.


In this piece [below], I poured 100 bottles of the Super Bond Hair Glue in an entire sheet, versus incrementally like in the other sheets. I then left it overnight and was able to take aggressive pulling, pinching, pushing. Being the thickest piece so far, I was able to fully exploit the possibilities of gesture and capture these bunchings and ripples and excessively wrinkled textures only mildly referenced in the other pieces.


M: You’ve mentioned matrilineal connection and skin as associations that have come up as you’ve worked with this material. In a way, these works feel like aggregate skin–not just one layer of skin or a single person’s skin. There’s also something geological and ambiguous in terms of scale–this could be elephant skin seen up close, or traces of slowly moving sediment, or lava, moving in geological time.

A: Yeah. It’s been so wild and perplexing to transform the material, to think about those emotions that are connected to my mother and my relationship with her. Many of the gestures I’m performing on this material are reflective of gestures that I engage with her.

M: There’s such sensuality here.

A: Yes! Especially when I’m moisturizing…with this thing called BLACK BEAUTY! [laughs] There’s something really erotic, and I really love that, too. One question I’ve asked myself is if it’s okay that the catalyst for working with this material was completely rooted in ideas of trauma, adaptation, and disassociation, and now, these pieces are just beautiful, and cathartic for me. Like, is that okay?


M: I mean, I say it’s okay! From our conversations, and how you’ve decided to let the material simply be without direct reference to what it is, letting it become something else entirely–at this scale, with such thickness and layering, with all the possibilities of gesture now available to it–shifting your own regard to it feels natural. The sheer quantity already defamiliarizes the material and asks the viewer to reconsider their relationship to it.

A: Yeah, and there’s such a visceral reaction from everyone who has come into the space that I really enjoy. I’m still trying to figure out how to talk about these and process what I’m doing because so much of the way I’m working is in this meditative state–standing still, absorbing the presence of the material, and then going into action, without much premeditated planning. Whatever first impulse or motion I make on the surface of the piece–whatever happens from that–I keep going.

M: That makes so much sense. And–even as we’re talking now [laughs]–hesitating to impose language at this stage feels so true to the process and necessary to preserve your relationship to the material. It’s a bodily language. When I think about how we touch someone intimately, our bodies do the thinking. Even to say “this Super Bond Hair Glue = skin” could close off possibilities, of what your body might want to say in response to the material.

A: Yes!


M: What are some next steps you’re thinking about?

A: I’m thinking about performance, and using my whole body to work on my next piece that will fill up this wall. I’m really excited to see what it’ll look like–this larger piece constructed in the style of Kazuo Shiraga, using the ropes hanging from the ceiling and using my feet to glide and slip and slide and manipulate the material. That, as a performance, might also be interesting, as a companion to the pieces. I’ll just see what happens!

Amagasaki Cultural Center

Keep up with Allana’s process @allanaclarkestudios