Alison McDonald: To all the houses I’ve lived in before

Alison McDonald has moved house 26 times. Not only does such an experience produce uncertainty and displacement, it also leaves an indelible imprint on one’s psyche—and it is this lasting sense of loss and impermanence that Townsville-based McDonald explores in Belonging: Memory and Loss.

The show uses three principal materials for its diverse sculptures: donated wooden parquetry, donated keys, and anodised aluminium that once held household staples such as sugar or flour—with each material related to moving. As McDonald says, “Moving has been part of my existence since I was very young—sometimes exciting, other times terrifying and sad.”

Over the course of this peripatetic life, McDonald has had to shed possessions, and has mourned the loss of her deceased parents’ belongings after she moved interstate from Western Australia to Queensland. In this context, the exhibition is also a meditation on our relationship with our belongings, and how possessions trigger memory.

“I wanted to explore the idea of belonging,” says McDonald. “Where we belong, our home, what belongs to us, our stuff we cart around and our heritage. What memories we gather into belongings and what we really need to remember a loss.”

Alison McDonald, Spill (detail), 2023, Repurposed anodised aluminium containers and acrylic, 195 x 120cm.

In some pieces, McDonald addresses wider issues such as the current housing crisis, as well as environmental collapse. Ultimately, though, the show is an expression of personal history and identity, with McDonald researching far to discover the fate of the many old dwellings she once inhabited.

“I began researching all these places, some forgotten. It was a real journey to find them—some burnt down, some replaced, all with some sort of recollection of our time there. My artwork takes the viewer down this path. I think I’ve left a bit of myself in these places, and they too have left something in me.”

Belonging: Memory and Loss
Alison McDonald
Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts
7 July—13 August

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith