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MHS Library | Fiona Hall

1. About Fiona Hall

Fiona Margaret Hall (b. 1953) is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists. She first emerged in the 1970s as a photographer, but during the 1980s transitioned to using a diverse range of art forms. Her ever-growing repertoire includes sculpture, painting, installation, garden design and video.

Hall's choice of material, and the way she uses it, is critical to her art. It speaks to us because it engages with contemporary life in intriguing ways, created from an Australian perspective. Hall deliberately transforms ordinary everyday objects to address a range of contemporary issues such as globalisation, consumerism, colonialism and natural history.

The core theme throughout Hall's work is the relationship between nature and culture. Throughout her career Hall has also maintained a lifelong commitment to teaching and study as a means of furthering her art.

Hall is arguably best known for her erotic sardine can series, Paradisus Terrestris . First appearing in 1990, this three-part series depicts the intersection of plant and human culture. Within each half-opened can sits a naked human body part, while plant life sprouts above. Beneath these top two layers, Hall adds language. The three systems make us consider what we share with plants.

Hall's career spans four decades, and continues unabated. She is an extraordinarily energetic artist. Her work is represented in every major public art collection in Australia. She exhibits regularly in Australia and overseas. (from

Read a detailed account of Fiona Hall's life and art here.

2. Hall's early works

Photo source

Despite enrolling in a Diploma of Painting, Hall was drawn to photography. With the support of John Firth-Smith, her painting teacher, she experimented with photography, and studied it as a minor with George Schwarz. At the time, photography was not offered as a major course.

In 1974, while in her third year of art school, Hall exhibited her photographs for the first time in Thoughts and Images: An Exploratory Exhibition of Australian Student Photography. Other student exhibitors included Bill HensonSue Ford and Rodney Pople.

Hall's early photographs document her surrounds. She investigates the proliferation of exotic plant species in the native environment in Leura, New South Wales (1974); the different textures of Bondi Beach (1975); and the idea of trouble in paradise in Oatley, Sydney (1974).

By her early-20s, Hall was already a professional photographer; her work exhibited, collected and published. (source:

3. Exploring photography and beyond

Photo source

After graduating in 1975, Hall headed to Europe. Based in London, she worked as an assistant to Fay Godwin, well-known English photographer, and spent her spare time absorbed in various galleries, museums and libraries of Europe.

In 1977, Hall held her first solo exhibition at London's Creative Camera Gallery. And, in 1978, during a brief visit home to care for her sick mother, she held her first Australian solo exhibition at the Church Street Photography Centre in Melbourne.

Hall's images around this time reveal a move away from merely documenting, toward more personal, less defined images, such as London (1976) and Pett Level, England (1978).

With her growing interest in multiple perspectives and experimentation, Hall went to America for further study. Between 1978 and 1982, she undertook the Workshop Program at the Visual Studies Workshop (VSW) in Rochester, New York. For her artist's residency, she returned to Hobart, Australia in 1981, and made The Antipodean Suite.

The VSW, led by Nathan Lyons, fed Hall's leaning toward experimentation and immediately impacted on her work. She made a decisive move to manipulated photography; one that incorporated the use of diverse objects and art forms. (Source)

4. Searching and making sense

In 1983, Hall took up a photo studies lecturing position at the South Australian School of Art. During this decade, she also developed a strong profile, producing several notable series' and seven solo exhibitions.

Hall's attempt to understand the world was largely informed by European literature. In particular, she studied the English Romantic poets, such as TS Eliot, traditional Christian texts and ancient philosophy. Her investigations resulted in works that broadly deal with order and chaos, good and evil.

In 1984, Hall created a suite of Morality dolls  the Seven Deadly Sins , her first three-dimensional works since high school. A year later, she produced a second suite, using oversized Polaroid photographs. Both suites investigate the human body, sexuality, order and chaos.

Purgatory, canto XVI: The Wrathful, 1988, Polaroid photograph.

Hall, Fiona (b. 1953), Purgatory, canto XVI: The Wrathful, 1988, Polaroid photograph, KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1989. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia: NGA 89.1429.

In 1988, Hall produced Illustrations to Dante's 'Divine Comedy' (1988) in response to the journeys through Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise in Dante's Divine Comedy . She used shredded sardine cans as flames, barbed wire on top of the gate to Purgatory and various other metal and hardware items. It was the first time she made the objects to photograph herself.

In 1989, Hall developed the first of her Paradisus terrestris series while at the Australia Council's studio in New York's SoHo district. As its title implies, this work addresses the idea of paradise. Its first showing at the 1990 Adelaide Biennial of Contemporary Art received great critical and popular success.

At the end of 1990, Hall's project, Words (1990) used unemotional and cooperative metal bodies to spell out sentences. According to Julie Ewington, author of The Art of Fiona Hall (2005), Wordssignifies a break from Hall's journey through darkness, chaos and distress, into self-acceptance and composure.


5. Contemporary life

From the 1990's, Hall turned her attention to making sense of modern life. As a result of her artistic success, she taught only half of each year between 1990 and 1997, allowing her to focus more on her art. She resigned in 2002 to work on her art full-time.

Hall continues to investigate issues ranging from consumption, politics and trade to the environment, nature, paradise and the body. Her choice of everyday materials and ways of using them is critical to her exploration.

Notable influences on Hall's work from the 1990's include artist residencies where she studied plant specimens (e.g. at Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens in Brisbane, and in the country estate, Lunuganga in Sri Lanka), and animal specimens (e.g. at the South Australian Museum). The impact of her Sri Lankan experience is particularly evident in the Sri Lankan Paradisus terrestris (1999) series.


6. Select works from the 1990s

In 1994, Hall's Biodata explored the social and political implications of trade. For Medicine bundle for the non-born child (1994), she knitted a baby's matinee jacket, bonnet and bootees from shredded Coca-Cola cans, attended by a six-pack of Coke cans with rubber nipples. It addresses notions of nurturing within our consumer society, referencing Coca-Cola as a symbol of plant degradation and cultural imperialism.

In 1996, Hall exhibited Give a dog a bone , a sharp criticism of consumerism. This installation comprised household objects carved from soap, arranged in cardboard boxes. In the middle of them is a photograph of her father, whose naked body is covered in a huge cape make of knitted strips of Coca-Cola cans. He is the 'king' of the castle of worthless objects. Significantly, this is Hall's last photograph.

Fern garden, 1998, tree ferns, river pebbles, granite, steel, concrete, copper wood mulch, water.

Hall, Fiona (b. 1953), Fern garden, 1998, tree ferns, river pebbles, granite, steel, concrete, copper wood mulch, water. Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia: NGA 98.16.

In 1998, Hall was commissioned by the National Gallery of Australia to produce Fern garden . Employing the Dicksonia antarctica tree fern, one of Australia's most ancient plants, she created a womb-like space for reflection. This connection with plants is a theme revisited from her earlier Paradisus terrestris.

7. Selected recent works

In recent years, Hall has used paper currency in works such as Leaf litter(1999-2003) and Tender (2003-05). In the series of works Leaf litter, she painted life-size portraits of leaves over banknotes from the leaf's country of origin. The series of 183 sheets speak of the degradation of plant life, telling us, pointedly, that money can't buy everything.

Tender tells a similar story about the effects of modernisation on the habitat of many species, including birds. It features dozens of birds' nests made from shredded US dollar bills.

Understorey (detail), 1999-2004, glass beads, silver wire, rubber, boarRoslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

Hall's Understorey (1999-2004) employs glass beads (the currency of colonisation) threaded onto wire to create three-dimensional objects depicting elements of plant and human material. The use of camouflage patterning aptly depicts the juxtaposition of nature and the conflicts over territory threatening it.

One of Hall's most recent works, Mourning chorus (2007-08), again addresses humanity's impact on the environment. The bodies' of 11 extinct or endangered bird species are made from disposable plastic chemical containers, and their beaks are from carved and cast resin. They sit in museological vitrines (as do some of Hall's other works) emphasising them as collected species.

Castles in the air of the cave dwellers (detail), 2007-08.

Hall, Fiona (b. 1953), Castles in the air of the cave dwellers (detail), 2007-08. Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

In a similar vein, Castles in the air of the cave dwellers (2007-08) are larger-than-life human brains, from which the structures of social animals, such as bees, ants and wasps, are attached. They are hybrid creations made of the human and natural worlds.

Since the 1990's, Hall has participated in several national and international solo and group exhibitions.


Fiona Hall - examples of her work on Pinterest

Pinterest is a good search engine for visual examples of art work. For example, if you search 'Fiona Hall' on Pinterest for 'boards' (ie collections) you will get many collections.  See them here.

Fiona Hall: Art in the first decade

Kermadec: Reflections on a voyage

Artist Fiona Hall talks about her voyage from New Zealand to Tonga along the 10,000 metre deep Kermadec Trench, and the making of her work; Bowline on a Bight.

Fiona Hall chosen to represent Australia at Venice Biennale

The Sydney-born artist, who lives in Adelaide and was made an officer of the Order of Australia earlier this year for her contribution to visual arts and art education, will be the sole artist exhibiting at the newly constructed Australian Pavilion in Venice from May 2015.

Hall's art, which ranges across painting, photography and sculpture, often examines the relationship between nature and culture.

She wove American dollar bills into bird nests for the 2006 work Tender to explore the effect of trade on the natural world and knitted video tape from war films to create hands, feet and heads with anguished, gaping mouths for 1997's Slash and Burn, a metaphor for ethnic cleansing.

Hall says her work for Venice will deal with issues of conflict and international politics.

''My concerns are, and this applies to Venice as well, the political state of the world and how it emotively impacts upon the lives of all of us,'' she says. ''And also, parallel to that, the environmental state of the world.''

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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