Ordering Chaos: Fiona Hall

The art of Fiona Hall
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
8 July – 11 September 2005

‘The Art of Fiona Hall’ comprises photographs, sculptures, paintings, ceramics and installations representing the artist’s work from 1988 to early 2005. Hall has used a dazzling array of media: aluminium cans, video tape, plastic containers, glass beads and bank notes to translate the ordinary into the extraordinary and to comment in intricate detail on the place of humankind in nature.

 Paradisus Terrestris (1989–90) is a series of sardine tins depicting plant forms. At the top of each tin is the beautifully worked plant, while inside is an equally meticulously rendered section of human anatomy, either male or female. The series showcases the idea of sensuous pleasure in a garden of earthly delights. A recurring theme of the exhibition is the recycling of ordinary objects which metamorphose into extraordinary art works. The baby’s layette of knitted coke cans, and the six pack of Coca Cola bottles with teats, seem to say that this child will be very much a product of its time. The war video tapes also knitted into toys, body parts and a wreath, imply that war is always with us in some form or another, and that women and children are the worst affected.

 In the photographs that interpret Dante’s journey in The Divine Comedy and Pliny’s Historia Naturalis, the artist has transformed her material so that each photograph is multilayered. Statements accompany a number of the works, but in Historia non-naturalis (1991), the statement is part of the work. The three earthenware pieces of Salix Babylonica (1991) also have text as part of their make up. These pieces were made as a response to the first Iraq war and are large domestic utensils. The sense here is that though war may be geographically far away, we are kept up to date by news bulletins which we hear and see often when preparing the family meal.

 Leaf Litter (1999–2003) is a series of exquisite paintings of leaves on bank notes. The themes of nature and culture, and the influence of one upon the other are apparent here. This is echoed in Tender (2003–2005), the installation of various shaped birds’ nests made of used bank notes. In Cash Crop (1998), the artist uses soap as her medium to comment on the pervasiveness of business and finance in all aspects of our lives.

 The marriage of beauty and utility is magnificently realised in the pieces where the artist has used everyday plastic objects with glass bead additions. Animals of land and sea spring to life, each telling a story or making a comment by the mere fact of its presence.

 The diversity of Fiona Hall’s talent and the depth of her knowledge are apparent in this exhibition. Each art work is exquisitely beautiful whether it shocks, makes you think, or makes you laugh.

notes: 

Fiona Hall is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney