Elaine and Jim
Wolfensohn gift

Travelling exhibitions | Introduction | Blue case | Red case | Yellow case | Melbourne cup

Yellow Case: Form, space, design

Richard Byrnes

Digestion haiku

Richard Byrnes Digestion haiku 1993 bronze National Gallery of Australia enlarge

Artist's statement
'As its name suggests this piece is a small poem to the chemical act of digestion and makes stylised references to teeth, orifices, the digestive tract and eating implements. It incorporates also a brass tap and plumbing corners, again to make reference to our own internal plumbing. The totemic forms are balanced to suggest vulnerability and the piece as a whole was made within the vague recollection of laboratory equipment'

This small sculpture is a sand cast bronze, a technique usually used in industrial foundries. The shapes were first made in wood, except the chicken bone and the tap. With the exception of the tap, all the other shapes were used to make moulds in sand into which molten bronze, a mixture of copper and tin, was poured. When cold, the rough bronze castings were cleaned and welded together, along with the tap. The organic elements were given a higher polish for contrast.


  • If Digestion haiku was a working machine, what kind of noises would it make and what would the machine produce?
  • Imagine your body is a machine, what would you need to keep it running in perfect working order? (Think of fuel, replacing worn parts, preventative maintenance.)
  • Make a totem that best describes you. Draw your design or assemble one using found objects or objects from nature.
  • A haiku is a Japanese poem that generally has only three lines. The first and last lines have five syllables, the second line seven syllables. Create a haiku about your totem.