Tag Archives: art

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….

Furniture Purchase for New Work

As mentioned previously, I have an upcoming show at The Barracks in New Norfolk in June 2022. This exhibition is the follow up to Mourning Story shown in 2021 and will showcase work arising from the Synapse Residency – although at this stage, I will not be showing any live cells.

I tend to be quite emergent in my approach to practice. However, many ideas tend to build on previous actions or make reference to previous works and concepts.  I have a history of repurposing furniture items to create new narratives that link to the domestic or particular historical periods. For the show in June, I am keen to revisit the idea of the Wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities), but shift it from a sense of containment to a more open form that inspires a sense of wonder at ‘uncontainability’ of life.

One of my key strategies in finding the perfect item, is to trawl through Gumtree and second hand shops. It takes some time and diligence, but I have found the perfect piece.

CabinetTimber hall stand with mirror

Not only is a beautiful piece of furniture, it is also ideally suited to re-working as a triptych-style work as the central mirror panel can easily be removed.

At almost 2m high, I am very fortunate to have a friend and collaborator with a horse float to get it home!

Exhibition Planned for June 2022: Preliminary Creative Work Ideas

I am excited to more formally announce that I have an exhibition scheduled for June/July 2022 at The Barracks Gallery in New Norfolk, run by Derwent Valley Arts. This is a great opportunity to show preliminary outcomes from the Synapse residency. A deadline also always gets me moving creatively. Due to the heritage location,  I am not anticipating showing living works, but rather fixed cells as part of sculptural works and other mixed media works and prototypes.

While final creative works will of course be refined in response to laboratory outcomes and collaborator input, these are some preliminary ideas:

  • Tumour Babies: A series of six media-media wall panels integrating my DNA and stained and fixed cells grown in glass vessels.
  • Revelations: A series of six mixed media dome works incorporating fixed cells seeded into 3D biofabricated scaffold structures.
  • More-than-human: A large-scale sonic and LED chandelier integrating 3D printed resin components based on cells, microorganisms, protein and DNA structures
  • Visible/Invisible: A series of three UV activated paintings and laser engraved light panels
  • Self-portrait #4: Imminent unfoldings: An outdoor sculpture designed to transform in response to the environment.
  • Becoming (M)other: Sculptural video installation integrating time-lapse light and fluorescence microscope images of cell growth and transformation.
  • Legal Mandalas: A series of laser engraved mandalas incorporating text from relevant legal and governance frameworks related to biomaterials use and patenting in Australia over the past decade.


Rhino Files

I have started preparing files in Rhino for laser engraving. This is a good Youtube introduction to setting up files with a some pointers for trimming and adding a hatch for engraving surfaces rather than just lines.

This is the start of my file prep in Rhino with dark areas signalling ‘hatched’ sections for surface engraving.

Screenshot of design in Rhino

Once the Petri dishes arrive, I can make time with the CAM technician Murray Antill to organise engraving. Of course, I need to test the settings first to ensure that I use the correct strength for lines vs. engraving. I usually use Perspex, so I will likely need to adapt the settings to suit a different material. The lines may also need further spacing as the laser produces around a .5mm line.

Immortalised cells – another work

As I continue to develop the project, I am looking into other artists working with cell immortalisation protocols.

A recent project involving the immortalisation of primary cells is the work Immortality for Two which forms part of a dual body of work collectively titled I’am by Luís Graça and Marta de Menezes. In contrast to the aims of the Billy Apple® project, this work reflects on the artist de Menezes and scientist Graça’s long-term working and romantic relationship (de Menezes M & Graça 2020).

Immortality for Two

Immortality for Two, Marta de Menezes 2014 – image available via Bioart Society

For more information see: https://martademenezes.com/portfolio/immortality-for-two/ 

de Menezes M & Graça L I’am – Immortality’s Anti-Marta, in Berger, E., Mäki-Reinikka, K., O’Reilly, K. and Sederholm, H., 2020. Art as we don’t know it. Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, pp. 52 – 53


Design prep

I purchased ten borosilicate glass Petri dishes last week in each size [1500mm and 900mm]. This will enable me to do the engraving and materials tests while I wait for ethics approval.

I am going to start with some simple designs that connect to motifs from my previous practice and signal notions of ongoing development and ‘rippling outwards’.  Screenshot of vector ripple design

Screenshot of vector ‘ripple’ design created in Adobe Illustrator.

This design was originally created for The Contamination of Alice #9 as part of the group show Ghost Biologies at Contemporary Art Tasmania in 2016. I feel that a similar pattern could work quite well engraved on the base of the Petri dishes. However, I will need to include some etched ‘shaded’ areas to see if scarring the surface helps with cell adhesion.

To create the new designs, I will try to work directly in Rhino – the software platform used for the laser cutter. Hopefully, this will enable me to create designs will fewer nodes to reduce clean up time and double lines.

Chameleon Pigments

While I plan to spend quite a bit of time in the lab, the Synapse residency is also giving me space to experiment with new creative materials that complement the focus of the research. In particular, I plan on moving forward with chameleon pigment experiments – I have been obsessed with them since the start of the year.

Chameleon pigments are essentially powered colours that have an iridescent quality reminiscent of peacock feathers and beetle wings.

Jewel Beetle

Example of iridescent Jewel Beetle, Jarrahdale State Forest, Western Australia, November 2011 by John Tann via Wikimedia Commons. 

What I particularly like about chameleon pigments is that they shift colour depending on the viewing angle. Not only can they shift between two colours (blue-green), some pigments allow for quite a large spectrum shift (blue-violet-red-orange).

My initial interest started with nail polish (even though I never wear it) as there are a fantastic range of chameleon and special effects options available on EBay and other outlets.

Screenshot E-Bay Search

Screenshot of Ebay search for chameleon nail polish July 2021.

While nail polish was a good start, the small volumes are unsuitable for larger projects. Therefore, my search took me to find larger volume options. I was delighted to discover that chameleon pigments are quite common in craft project and there are a number of retailers in Australia and overseas that produce chameleon and metal mica pigments for a wide range of applications.  The price of these products is variable, so I have been testing small quantities of powder from a range of companies including Solar Color Dust and A1 Pigments.

Screenshot of Chrome Dust Pigments

Screenshot of different chrome dust pigments available at SolarColorDust.com

With the Synapse grant, I plan to expand these initial experiments to include automotive products, as chameleon pigments are also available as for custom car painting and detailing in powder, paint and spray form. Perhaps they will even work to highlight fixed cells on glass.

Chameleon Car Paint

A car with chameleon pigment paint finish taken in 2019 by W Fan (cropped image with license plate number removed) via Wikimedia Commons.


First Artist Cell Line

Since the ultimate aims of my project involves the establishment of an artist cell line, it is important to acknowledge previous work in this terrain. Indeed, as briefly mentioned in my first post (project background), the first artist cell line was conceptualised in by artist-scientist Craig Hilton and involved the collaborative immortalisation of white blood cells (B-lymphocytes) from fellow artist Billy Apple®. The cells were transformed using the Epstein Barr virus and presented for exhibition in a bioreactor (sterile artificial environment that replicates the conditions inside a human body) with settings customised to Apple’s® own physiology (Hilton 2014).

The Immortalisation of Billy Apple

The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® at Starkwhite Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand, May 2010. (Hilton 2014)

While the project extended on Billy Apple’s® interest in artist branding, by allowing a branded component of the artist (Billy Apple® cells) to live on after his death, the project was also designed to enable the cells to be used for creative and scientific research projects. To facilitate this, the cells were destined for inclusion in the American Type Culture Collection (a central repository and distributions hub for cell lines). A 2014 press release by Starkwhite Gallery, archived via the Ocula Magazine, stated that the cells had been added to the ATCC collection. However, I recently had a look for the cells and could not locate them in the ATCC repository. I checked other biomedical supply companies but also with no success. This makes me curious to find out what happened to them. I plan on going to the source (i.e. Craig Hilton), but this will require further ethics clearance so that I can report his responses as part of my research. But first things first…cell culture clearance takes priority at this stage.


As a fan of the wonderful world of poo, it is also interesting to note that Billy Apple® was also the subject of a microbiome study in which stool samples of the artist taken 45 years apart were used to review changes in gut bacteria (Jayasinghe et. al. 2017).

Hilton, C., 2014. The immortalisation of Billy Apple®: an art-science collaboration. Leonardo47(2), pp.109-113.
Jayasinghe, T.N., Hilton, C., Tsai, P., Apple, B., Shepherd, P., Cutfield, W.S. and O’Sullivan, J.M., 2017. Long-term stability in the gut microbiome over 46 years in the life of Billy Apple®. Human Microbiome Journal5, pp.7-10.
Starkwhite Gallery, 2014, ‘Billy Apple and Craig Hilton:The Analysis of Billy Apple®’, Ocula Magazine, viewed 13 July 2021, https://ocula.com/art-galleries/starkwhite/exhibitions/the-analysis-of-billy-apple/