A Story of artists and the museum

Written by: Andrew MacDonald, Factory Supervisor Cobb+Co Museum

Biological science can inspire artists, not only with form but also display style.

In a previous life I worked in the art department of a regional university, where I looked after the studios and taught sculpture techniques. One of my colleagues was the textiles lecturer, and we decided to collaborate after we noticed similarities in our work. I predominately used timber and metal, Sarah Rayner worked in fabric with embroidery and weaving.

We began by partially making a piece each then handing it over for the other to complete. After the first couple we couldn’t stop, deciding to collaborate to produce an exhibition with a museum feel.

Source material

We agreed that our work would be botanical or insect inspired, like case moths, beetles and seed pods. As we both lived in rural areas, Cabarlah and Ravensbourne, we focused on local species like Grevillea, Eucalypts, Flindersia, Castanospermum and other trees around us.

These forms were closely observed, manipulated and re-imagined in a combination of materials. To better view the locale, I walked along the road from Sarah’s house to Ravensbourne National Park. I noted native vegetation and exotics, and collected finds on the roadside. One discovery that changed our approach was a shredded inner tube. It became the material we could both work with, and physically joined many of the pieces.

Display style

We both identified as ‘museumophiles’ and loved the old Queensland Museum. The memories of pulling out drawers of pinned insects prompted us to display our work in a museum collection style. We designed glass fronted cases with handles, and labelled many works like insect displays, with a pinned tag bearing an obscure Latin name. We spent many hours inventing titles with the help of a Latin dictionary and a glass of wine.

The first exhibition was at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, who purchased three of the works for their collection. With that success we approached Artisan Gallery, of Craft Queensland who agreed, and we received an Arts Queensland grant for exhibition and catalogue costs.

Runaway success

The popularity of the exhibition prompted an extension at the gallery. From local media coverage we were picked up by several curators, which meant inclusion in the Craft Australia exhibition, Material Speaks, at SOFA, Chicago; and we were asked to apply for a large sculpture commission with Brisbane City Council.

Our proposal was accepted, and we went on to install larger works very similar in content and style along Melbourne Street, West End. The inspiration was the original rainforest vegetation of the area. We used aluminium- cast or pressed, to make the pieces durable. We also produced laser cut aluminium lettering, of faux Latin nomenclature, like Flindersia westendus.

Old works re-imagined

My role in QM is a fascinating mix of technical and creative work, with a dash of history. At home I still make constructions in aluminium and rubber, and Sarah now makes exquisite porcelain pieces based on native flora. Working at QM suggested a way of linking old and new pieces, by mixing them into the museum displays. The forms find new echoes with collection specimens, and the display boxes merge into the museum matrix!

Visitors to Cobb+Co have the opportunity to see more than horse drawn vehicles. The Inquiry Centre has an eclectic mix of objects from the past, fauna specimens, and physics interactives. Can they stimulate new connections or creations in the observant visitor?

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