Material Culture
Aspects of contemporary Australian craft and design

Introduction | Foreword | Structure | Narrative | Transfomation | Artist biographies | Biography


Structure Gallery

The doctrine of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century focused on the revelation of structure and the natural qualities of materials as central to the design and decoration of objects. These tenets were incorporated into the early phases of Modernism and created an awareness of the expressive possibilities of functional design. We now have a world in which advanced materials and technologies reach into the most intimate spheres of our lives through a plethora of functional and decorative objects. The delivery systems of this technology have made us aware of the electronic structure that lies unseen within many objects and upon which we are increasingly dependent. The ubiquity of transparent and translucent materials in current design reflects our desire to see into objects, as if to verify the actuality of the systems in which we place so much trust.

The orchestration of the structure, and the performance and physical attributes of materials, lie at the centre of craft practice. The artists in this section are linked by an understanding of these qualities, allied with refined design and technical skills. Each displays technical bravura, in materials as diverse as titanium and wood or glass and wool, but moves beyond it to suggest that such materials hold for us a resonance of a world not quite within our grasp. In these works, neither structure nor material is subservient to function, rather they act as poetic interventions in the chaotic structure of contemporary urban life.


Robert Baines La Columbella tea and coffee set 1992-1994, titanium and sterling silver, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Robert Baines
born Melbourne, Australia 1949

Robert Baines is known for work in jewellery and for larger, complex hollow ware, which often combines precious materials such as gold with high-technology materials such as titanium. This set of vessels and a tray, in the format of the traditional tea and coffee service, uses function as a starting point for a complex assemblage of forms and interactions of material, light and volume. Its title, La Columbella, derives from the important Etruscan archaeological site of Columbella at Palestrina and refers to Baines' research into the techniques of ancient goldsmithing.1 Its exaggerated, multi-angled forms and geometric contrasts also satirise the exuberant Italian interpretation of Post-Modernism in the 1980s. The qualities of each part of this set are enhanced through the complex polished and corrugated surfaces of the silver. The intricate series of fine drill holes on the black lids are an abstraction of the ancient goldsmithing technique of granulation, contrasting with the handles, made from the space age material of titanium, with their repetitive pattern of dots and thermally-treated multiple colouration.

1 Baines was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 1979 to study the metalwork of Greek and Etruscan goldsmiths. His most recent support for this research was in 1997, when he received a Senior Fulbright Award to conduct a research project on Etruscan goldworks at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Object Conservation in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.



Frank Bauer Light sculpture 2001 21 x 12-volt Xenon lamps National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Frank Bauer
born Hannover, Germany 1942, arrived Australia 1971

Frank Bauer works as a goldsmith, lighting designer and kinetic sculptor. He brings a contemporary expression to the aesthetic language of early Modernism that influenced his craft and design training in Germany.1 The precise engineering and craftsmanship that characterises his geometric and reductive jewellery is reflected in a larger scale in this wall-mounted light sculpture. Using his patented system of small, low-voltage lamps as visual connectors through a complex and rhythmical structure of perforated anodised aluminium sheets, Bauer orchestrates reflected, coloured light in an abstraction of the technical systems of the contemporary built environment.

1 See Frank Bauer, 'Frank Bauer: Designer - Bauhaus inheritance' in Frank Bauer: Designer – jewellery, metalwork, lighting, 1975–2000, Adelaide: Frank Bauer, 2000, pp.67. 



Matthew Curtis Constructed bowl (Ruby) 2001 glass: blown and constructed, with stainless steel rim, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Matthew Curtis
born Luton, Great Britain 1964, arrived Australia 1981

Matthew Curtis usually works with the technique of cased glass, in which overlays of coloured glass are blown together then carved away to reveal contrasting layers. This interplay between the internal and external 'skins' of his blown vessels is suggested in this large bowl. Differing qualities and forms of glass are used to articulate the tension between the inner volume and outer form of the work. One thousand three hundred tiles of cut plate glass with ground edges have been constructed around an internal blown form of ruby-purple glass, with a stainless steel rim circling the top of the vase. This complex construction exploits the relationship between glass and light to give physical form to refracted colour.



Mark Edgoose Circle 2001 titanium, aluminium and nylon brush, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Mark Edgoose
born Warragul, Victoria 1960

Mark Edgoose's work is distinguished by his precise and adventurous use of advanced metals to make complex and ambiguous containers. This circle of interlinked titanium boxes delineates contained space, which remains empty but charged with possibility. The ordered procession of unopenable containers, each resting caterpillar-like on a flexible brush, invites speculation about its function. While its repetitive shapes and ingenious linkages reprise the pleasure and satisfaction of early mechanical toys such as Meccano or model trains, its visual and physical impregnability hints at unalterable systems and a darker, more controlled purpose.



Viliama Grakalic Noughts and crosses 2000 925 silver, bone, mother-of-pearl, 18 carat gold, magnet and epoxy, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Viliama Grakalic
born Zagreb, Yugoslavia 1942, arrived Australia 1963

Viliama Grakalic's jewellery is characterised by her use of symbols and graphic imagery. In this large necklace, with its loose construction of circles and the noughts and crosses of the popular game, she turns the body into a site for the random distribution of marks and gestures. While the game is associated with killing time, Grakalic's construction of these shapes in mother-of-pearl reminds us of the slow growth of this precious material and the equally painstaking way it was cut for use in commemorative jewellery and souvenirs in the past.



Johannes Kuhnen Centrepiece/Tray 1998 anodised aluminium, silver and monel, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Photographer: Johannes Kuhnen

Johannes Kuhnen
born Essen, Germany 1952, arrived Australia 1981

In his work as a jeweller, object maker and photographer, Johannes Kuhnen is engaged with the interpretation and manipulation of a precise visual language of forms. The dramatic curvilinear shape of this centrepiece has been designed to emphasise the particular visual qualities of its materials and to fulfil its role as a low, but commanding central presence on a table. The vivid, iridescent colour of its anodised aluminium rim is designed to interact with differing light conditions, while the technical and precious qualities of its monel and silver elements play against each other. This orchestration of metals is underpinned with an unseen but precise and ingenious inner structure, giving this object weight and functional strength.



Sue Lorraine Continuous model, Bronchial model, Elongated model 2001, heat-coloured mild steel and tube, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Sue Lorraine
born Melbourne, Victoria 1955

As an artist working within the field of jewellery and small objects, Sue Lorraine is aware of their power to eroticise and focus attention on the parts of the body where they are worn or placed. For her, however, the more visceral, yet equally sensual aspects of the inner body are more compelling subjects for scrutiny and interpretation. She understands the way the physiology of the human body is frequently visualised through the schematised and diagrammatic representations of its functions, used to illustrate popular medical texts or didactic science museum exhibits. This work focuses on the lung, the body’s organ of breath, giving form to its role of circulating air and life. Its abstracted, hard-edged construction in steel, sprung, forged and coloured with heat, is a metaphor for the strength and resilience of the lungs, as well as a reminder of its susceptibility to the effects of the industrial environment.



Klaus Moje Fragments 1-2001 2001, fused and ground mosaic glass, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Klaus Moje
born Hamburg, Germany 1936, arrived Australia 1982

Working with a restricted range of forms - the shallow bowl, the flat wall panel or the cylindrical vessel - Klaus Moje draws upon the history of glassmaking to create fields of kaleidoscopic luminescence. The striated, agate-like glass produced in Germany and Austria in the 19th century and the influence of European Constructivism of the early 20th century echo through Moje's geometry. Since his arrival in Australia in 1982, he has developed this structural language to incorporate the influence of the colour and visual drama of the Australian sky and landscape.1 His characteristic technique of cutting and composing a mosaic of coloured glass allows him to plan the structure of a work before submitting it to fusing and polishing processes that create depth and subtly alter his configurations. Close inspection of his glass reveals flashes of unexpected brilliance, graphic tensions and fluidities within the serene formality of his elemental compositions.

1 For a detailed account of Moje's career in Australia, see Geoffrey Edwards, Klaus Moje Glass: A Retrospective Exhibition, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1995.



Catherine Truman Interior under scrutiny no 12 2001, carved English lime wood and paint, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Catherine Truman
born Glenelg, South Australia 1957

The structure of the human body and its systems of conduits and musculature is the point of departure for the carved wood objects of Catherine Truman. Meticulously carved and painted, they resemble antique anatomical models, yet with their elusive purpose they transcend instructive biology. A jeweller by training, Truman applies a precise logic to the production of small, hand-held objects in which the rigidity of wood is made visually subservient to the elasticity invoked by objects such as tubes, bladders and gullets. Through them, we are able to visualise the inner sensations of the body, particularly those that make us aware of our fragility, such as breathing, choking, digestion or spasm. With their talismanic and semiotic presence, an industrial ambiguity also surrounds these objects, reminding us of our increasing dependence and trust in the electromechanical systems that deliver fresh air and water to our interior environments.



Jenny Turner Shawl 2000, woven superfine wool and silk, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Jenny Turner
born Wollongong, New South Wales 1939

Jenny Turner is known for the refined, gradated colourings of her loom-woven wool and silk fabrics, giving them a sense of having faded with long use. This shawl shows her control of a complex dyeing process in which the fabric's warp threads reveal gradated shifts of colour, in the manner of South-East Asian ikat textiles. Turner's work is distinguished by its low-keyed colour and the manipulation of the thread structure to build texture into the fabric. These qualities are enhanced when the shawl is worn, allowing colour and pattern to shift direction, echoing the construction of the fabric's weave. 



Richard Whiteley Event horizon 2000, cast and polished glass, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Richard Whiteley
born Great Britain 1963, arrived Australia 1963

In making his monumental and sentinel-like cast glass forms, Richard Whiteley draws from the technical traditions of Czech glass to articulate and reflect the Australian urban and industrial landscape.1 His works are often blade-shaped and exploit the saturated colour only available with glass. The subtle greyness of this work evokes the crystalline quality of natural materials such as topaz and rock crystal, prized for centuries for their clarity, and cut and polished to enhance their refractiveness. Its chipped edge, however, also suggests the transformation by indigenous Australians, since European settlement, of found industrial glass fragments into precise and jewel-like spearheads. Its form and exaggerated bevelled cutting suggests a window, and acts as an agent for light, bridging and energising the space between landscape and interior.

1 While a student in 1987, Whiteley worked at the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle with Czech glass artists, Stanislav Libensk´y and Jaroslava Brychtová. For an account of Whiteley’s workshop experiences, see Meredith Hinchliffe, ‘Richard Whiteley’ in Craft Arts International, no.50, 2000, pp.38–42