Category Archives: Off Topic

Sculpture Planning and Biodegradable Casting Materials

I am currently planning out my upcoming show (June 2022) at The Barracks. Michelle from the Derwent Valley Arts Committee indicated that the large courtyard would make a potentially interesting site to include in the show.

This prompted me to ponder how I might create a sculptural work suitable for an outdoor environment – and whether I could re-make a version of ‘Coming to Terms with Being Forgotten’ –  but designed to disintegrate, shed nutrients and enable the growth of other plants and animals. In this way, the work could better reflect the idea of letting go and making way for what comes after.  It would also force me to be more considerate about the materials used in the construction of the work.

Svenja Kratz: Coming to Terms with Being ForgottenSvenja Kratz, Coming to Terms with Being Forgotten, 2020
Fibreglass, polyurethane, plastic, plants, insects, wax, polymer clay, clay, acrylic paint. Original sculpture exhibited at Rosny Barn (2020) and The Barracks (2021). 

This consideration prompted me to revisit the work of Australian artist Jamie North:

Jamie North - SculptureJamie North, Remainder No.4  2016
cement, blast-furnace slag, coal ash, marble waste, living Australian plants
45cm diameter. 

I like the impermanence disintegrating aesthetic and the integration of live plants into the structure.

Some of his larger works also hint at the ephemerality of all things including monuments and other markers of ‘human ingenuity’.

Jamie North SculptureJamie North, Drifting to Void, 2016
Cement, blast-furnace slag, coal ash, marble waste, steel, living Australian plants, 240 x 67 x 67cm

Jamie North’s work also connects to the ‘TerraForm’ sculptures of Robert Cannon – although I must admit that I prefer the more abstracted works.

Robert Cannon - ApolloRobert Cannon, Apollo, concrete, moss and living plants via: Design Swan

Robert Cannon UprisingRobert Cannon, Uprising, concrete, moss and living plants via: Design Swan

The work of Antony Gormley is also always interesting to consider in relation to the human figure.

In the context of this project, I think the work ‘Sense’ offers an interesting option in relation to the idea of an absent body (with the potential of filling of a void with potential growth).

Antony Gormley SenseAntony Gormley, Sense, 1991, concrete 

While concrete is one material option for producing an outdoor sculpture, I really want to find an alternative casting material that would offer better biodegradability alongside nutrient supplements for organism growth and soil improvement.

There seem to be a growing number of more sustainable materials or biodegradable materials available for casting or injection moulding including bioplastics or  Arboform, which manufacturers describe as ‘Liquid Wood’. However, a number of these products seem to be more designed for industrial and product design purposes. As such, I think this project is more suited to raw materials such as compost or a custom mix between a variety of elements (e.g. sand, rocks, compost, concrete, hay) to enable a range of durational unfoldings and both nutrients and potential habitats.

To help with some of the planning, I consulted designer (and UTAS concrete guru) Jouni Jarvela. He suggested that casting would be a good option, but it would be best to test a range of materials on a smaller scale before sizing the design up to a large-scale format. I do love me some design prototyping! 

Following our chat, I will work on a smaller ‘bust’ version which will be easier to manage than a life-size human form. In the interim, he will consider some material options for testing.

I have to say that one of the things I love about making work is seeing where things go after an initial idea is put forward. At this stage, a life-size courtyard sculpture for June seems out of the realm of possibility – however, a series of degrading self-portrait busts may be the alternative outcome. Who knows….

Sponges as scaffolds?

We are lucky in Tasmania to be able to travel freely across the state. With winter coming to an end, I saw an opportunity to visit Burnie with some art school colleagues. We witnessed the arrival of some of the first penguins at the Burnie Little Penguin colony for their annual mating and childrearing.

We also glanced some amazing sponges on the beaches in nearby Wynyard.

Wynyard BeachFossil Bluff – Wynyard.

Doctor's RocksDoctor’s Rocks – Wynyard

Marine Sponge texture

Seeing the texture and architecture of different marine sponges on the beach, prompted me to consider whether they have been considered as a scaffold architecture for cell growth.

Sponges from WikimediaDifferent sponges from Wikimedia Commons.

Turns out that yes, there is already a study on whether marine sponges could be used as scaffolds in bone repair.

In vitro Evaluation of Natural Marine Sponge Collagen as a Scaffold for Bone Tissue Engineering

While this has already been done. I think it would still be a nice side experiment to see whether I can grow my cells in a marine sponge scaffold. There are a number of companies that offer cleaned and bleached natural marine sponges for bathing, facial exfoliation and art – although the variety seems usually limited to honeycomb and silk sponges from the Mediterranean.


Bag of sponges available from art supply store.

Perhaps the sponges could be used in conjunction with a hydrogel to assist with cell adhesion and proliferation. I think it would be quite lovely to make a self-portrait of ‘me’ as a sponge. Although, I will likely need to use a bioreactor to enable nutrients to reach the interior of the structure.

Sending mouse sperm via postcard

The great thing about residencies is that you get to spend a good amount of time talking and sharing stories and insights. At our lab meeting, our conversation led to this awesome paper:

Mailing viable mouse freeze-dried spermatozoa on postcards

Yes, you read correctly.  It is indeed possible to share mouse sperm via postcard.

My favourite part are the graphics:

Mouse Sperm

Thanks Jo-Maree 😉 I think this is another potential project…