Born from endurance and subsequent respite, Barbara Campbell-Allen’s latest installation Overland: From the Cradle to the Lake comprises two contrasting groups of forms—one of rugged vestigial seismic shifts, the other of dapple-surfaced amphora.1 The work evokes two landscapes of the internationally renowned Overland track in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area—a landscape of endurance and a landscape of support—and Campbell-Allen’s experience of moving through and between them. After traversing a threatening, fractured environment of dolorite cliffs, rolling moors and stunted heath for some days, utterly exposed in unrelentingly wet and windy conditions, Campbell-Allen and her companions followed the trail’s descent into a forest, which offered relief and a sense of tranquillity, safety and shelter.

Expressing the first part of this journey is a group of dramatic, compressed, geographic forms—‘constructs’—whose eroded geometries glower with dark scoured striations and the effects of the punishing weather. Each construct’s attributes deliberately and directly references the physical characteristics of the landscape. Rolled edges give expression to the rolling moors, striations to the dolorite cliffs, stiffness to jutting mesas; enclosed spaces recall darker broken rocks and fractured dolorite, encrustations the stoic canny flora. The effect is menacing, lyrical, forbearing—like the landscape itself.

Campbell-Allen shifts register to create less literal and more symbolic forms for the second grouping that represents the forest and the sense of respite and shelter it provided, presenting a firing of amphora that stand as old-growth. The narrow bottomed full bodied form of the amphora is the most domestic and original form for ceramic storage. In Overland it promises a homecoming that is yet to be realised. For here each amphora’s domesticity is denied by its scale, its rim broken to recollect the broken and burnt trees that pierce the canopy of the forest, still recovering from a devastating fire some forty years ago. The forest offers shelter, but it is still wilderness. 

Campbell-Allen has developed these forms from formats she has been working in over the past few years. Denser, smaller constructs featured in the 2011 exhibition Narrative Knot: Stories in Ceramics.2 Before these, in 2007, were the more formal wall pieces, some broken, reconstructed and rectilinear, in pairs, built up to evoke landscape and landform that Campbell-Allen exhibited in Slowtime.3 Campbell-Allen has been working with amphora for their cross-cultural symbolism, whilst working in collaboration with artist Alex Kershaw on a sculptural work to accompany his new media installation Fantasticology Tokyo: Fault, Flesh and Flowers at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. 4

The abiding characteristics of Campbell-Allen’s practice are an exploration of the expressive capacities of clay and anagama-style wood-firing, and an embodied relationship to land, with many works developed in response to specific locations. In Overland: From Cradle to the Lake, Campbell-Allen’s concern is for the groupings to convey the different emotional sense of each landscape and of her journey. Her achievement is the way the forms embody her very specific experience and the particular ecologies of the Overland, and by doing so, resonate with others’ experiences of constraint and expansiveness.

1. Overland: From the Cradle to the Lake, Incinerator Art Space, Willoughby, 27 September–13 October 2013.
2. Manly Art Gallery and Museum, 2 December 2011–22 January 2012.
3. Freeland Gallery, Paddington, 21 June- 23 July, 2007.
4. Fantasticology Tokyo: Fault, Flesh and Flowers,Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12 September–10 November 2011.

Article by Margaret Farmer