Photos by Lesley Lau, story by María José Contreras
Born in Slovenia and now living in London, Ana Kerin is the founder of Kana London, a project that aims to bring people closer to fine arts through the functionality and beauty behind ceramics.
She and Hanna had previously met in February at Harvey Nichols, whilst both of them were taking part in The Maiyet Collective, and instantly felt connected to each other's work. Hanna paid her a visit at her studio a couple of weeks later and sent me a few pictures pictures later that day. Ana’s studio was charmingly white and the glass ceiling let so much light through that you could easily forget you were still in London even in the gloomiest day.
This week I’m honoured to shadow Ana Kerin whilst she draws her signature feathers for a very special collaboration and I chat with her about the elevating power of ceramics, the importance of collaborations in the creative practice, and the representation of women in the arts.
Hi Ana! Could you please tell me a bit about you - where are you from, what is your background and what led to developing Kana London?
I was born and grew up in Slovenia, moved to London after my masters, and I’ve been here for almost eights years now. It feels so strange to say that - I never imagined it was going to happen and that I’d be one of those people saying “I’ve been in London for eight years”.
My background is in fine arts and Kana was one of the projects that I had been working on. When I moved to London I got my first studio and I started selling functional ceramics in the market and also started working with different chefs and stylists. I didn’t expect so much attention and such a great response. Specially because that was only one of the things I was doing in the studio - alongside sculptures and paintings - and I wasn’t expecting the ceramics to become so desirable. The project grew in a kind of unpredictable way from something that was originally my sculpture studio. But there was also a great overlap between the two things; I really enjoyed merging art and functionality. I love the idea of elevating your everyday life by bringing these objects into it. Where is that line between an art piece and a functional piece? And why should I make it different? People tend to think that art is not affordable and feel that they are not entitle and they don’t know how buy and how to invest into art. I believe art should be more open so this relationship could be more spontaneous and people could buy art based on how it makes them feel. With Kana’s ceramics, being in that place in-between artistic and functional pieces, I’m trying to bridge that gap.
I love the fact that you have found in ceramics the balance to make art more accessible to people who otherwise might feel that they don’t belong to that world.
I like to believe my pieces feel like sculptures, that can be used as everyday objects. If you look closely, you can see I use very classic fine art training techniques - from the sculpting approach to work, to the painting approach in the surface treatment. They are extensions of my fine art work, but are also functional; they are more relatable in an everyday context and I hope this also makes people feel closer to fine arts by elevating their day-to-day experiences.
Who are your biggest influences and how do you bring them into your work?
I definitely find inspiration in fine arts but also in contemporary dance, in music, in food. I always say that painting is very close to music because, as an artist, you create a fictional space from a non-physical one. Whilst sculpture is very physical, and it comes out from your body, and you make it with your whole body - you use all your muscles in the process. It’s almost like a choreography where you put all your energy in the performance.
Going back to what you were saying before about working in different projects after moving to London, were all they related to the arts or Kana was, let’s say, your passion project and you had other side jobs?
I think my case is a bit tricky and I might not the best example. I know what you mean - and that’s how it usually works - but for me, my passion project was also my career. As a sculptor I was always painting and making functional ceramics. I never liked putting pressure on my fine art, so I enjoyed going out there, to the market, to the people, with something that was more reliable for them and a better conversation starter. It’s easier to try to sell functional ceramics, which doesn’t bring as much pressure about the selling factor as it does my fine art. I did other jobs as well - I had a parallel career working as a project manager, producer, and food stylist - and I think it helped me to get my ceramics out there because it made me part of that world in so many ways. At some point I also managed a restaurant, which was very good for the night shifts and freed up my whole day, so I didn’t have to compromise my career choices whilst having a steady income to support them.
It’s very common to see your collaborations with other artists, such as Tim from ‘Prison Style Tattoo’ and Alexandria Coe. How does these collaborations contribute to develop your artistic practice and how do you make sure that your identity as an artist remains safe?
That’s a very good question. Collaborations are super important to me, both on a personal and professional level. It’s like when you go on holidays and come back filled with the scents, colours, and textures that you saw and that bring inspiration into your work. My feeling towards collaborations is very similar because I see people as landscapes, they are worlds within themselves; and talking with them, learning about their lives, and listening to their stories whilst we are working is like discovering a new city. Working with people makes me feel super inspired and feeds my own work. That’s a big reason why I do it. And regarding how to not lose the identity of my own work, it really depends. If it’s a collaboration with Kana it’s more like they bring their aesthetics, they dress up my designs with their ideas. I’m not scared about losing my identity, because whereas I’m hosting the collaboration as Kana or as Ana Kerin, we’re limiting ourselves around functional ceramics.
As a female artist, do you think women are represented fairly in the arts nowadays?
I feel this question it’s much bigger and I cannot really answer it based only in the arts field. It opens a more general question about feeling or not feeling equal. Do you know what I mean? If you look at the bigger picture the question is how many women decide to not pursue art as a career because they know that it’s not going to be viable for them. Therefore they sacrifice their true passion because they have to choose something that it’s going to be reasonable. And I find this quite sad. Society is trying to grow in a progressive way, and we are having an endless conversation around the equality between men and women; in the workplace, in politics, in arts, in education. It doesn’t really translate into anything. And if you ask me why, I’d say it’s because we are not raising a generation of children that believe in equality. We keep treating boys as boys as girls as girls based on obsolete rules. If you honestly ask yourself how do you feel about this question, I feel split; I have mixed emotions of guilt and selfishness and this goes all the way down to the fact that society is expecting us to act in certain ways and we know that we will have to make certain compromises. Women are sometimes harder to other women than men themselves, we can be very harsh with ourselves, we are very judgemental about other women’s decisions and choices. I beat a bit around the bush, but my point is that it’s not as simple and that we need to start making changes from ourselves. This is something I’m truly passionate about and would like to ask the question back to the people, do they think they are consciously making the right decisions to try to reduce inequalities on a daily basis? I think we are responsible for bringing up a new generation of children who understand that their career options are limited only by their own choices; and this is by not having a society who is led by gender-related expectations, which is something we still experience nowadays.
A couple of weeks ago I met a stylist called Alison McDougal for our first conversation and asked her what was success for her. I’d like to ask you the opposite question - What is failure for you?
I think failure for me is when on the way to achieving something, you lose yourself, your ethics, and your values. I think that’s the only true failure. Anything else it’s just part of the learning process. I don’t see making mistakes as a failure.
What looks the future like for Kana London?
I’m very happy with how things have been going for the past few years and I keep asking myself every year what are the things I’m happy about and what are the things I’m not happy about. I believe it’s not always about scaling up and I think I’m very lucky to work with amazing clients that, in many cases, have become friends as well. I miss my fine arts practice a lot and I want to find a way to bring this forward a bit more. In any case, that’s the foundation for Kana, that’s what feeds every single project so if I don’t nourish that, Kana doesn’t feed out of anywhere. I just need to make sure to keep this balance. I think I’ll be focusing more on smaller and limited collections and some amazing projects that I’m working on. I’ll be bringing other materials as well - such as glass - and will step into sustainability by challenging people to think more about it through my designs.
Ana is wearing the Simon top, the Bernhard trousers, the Frederick top, the Theobalt skirt, and the Oscar top.