The Learning Federation
Please refer to Conditions of use (This item contains non-TLF content)

image icon 'Cell culture', 2002

'Cell culture', 2002
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a mixed media installation made in 2002 by Fiona Hall (1953-). The work consists of around 30 objects arranged on three shelves of a very large wooden-framed glass display case (vitrine), which measures 157 cm x 247 cm x 90 cm. Each of the objects has been constructed from differently shaped white plastic containers and beaded components that have been sewn together and shaped into particular forms. The objects vary in both form and size - some are plant-like, some appear to be sea creatures, while others represent creatures (such as the bat-like shape to the left of the second shelf) or parts of creatures, such as frogs' legs or a bird's beak.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Fiona Hall, one of the leading installation and visual artists of her generation within Australia - Hall studied at East Sydney Technical College (1972-75) and on graduating, took up photography as her sole art practice; Hall spent 1976-78 in Europe and the UK and held her first solo exhibition of photographs in London in 1977; in 1978 Hall moved to the USA where she completed a Master of Fine Arts (Photography) at the Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester; returning to Australia in 1981, she undertook several artist residencies; in 1983, she took up a lecturing position (photographic studies) at the South Australian School of Art, Adelaide, and has continued to live and work in Adelaide from that time; as a pictorial, sculptural and installation artist working across a wide range of media, Hall continues to explore issues related to social and economic history, botany and the environment
  • is about the intersection of nature and culture, an idea that is central to the artist's practice - the forms in the display cabinet are hybrids; natural attributes such as resemblances to fins, leaves and legs have been grafted onto commercial plastic containers to emphasise the point that it is impossible to think about nature as being somehow separated from human values and exploitation
  • questions the way human societies have traditionally viewed (or continue to view) the natural world - the glass and wood display cabinet was designed and constructed for this work, with its design in the style of 19th-century natural science museum cabinets (known as 'vitrines'); by using this form of display, Hall is questioning the role of science (and particularly natural science museums) in creating seemingly objective 'world views' through the construction of taxonomies in which all living species are identified and related; by putting hybrids on display the artist is revealing another taxonomy, the 'hidden' systems, operating across cultures, that commodify, trade and exploit the natural world
  • uses humour to express an idea - the plastic containers are all items from the Tupperware range; Tupperware has been a domestic household brand in Australia since the 1960s, made popular by its sale through 'Tupperware parties'; the idea of putting plastic domestic containers designed to seal and preserve food in a make-believe 19th-century museum cabinet (containers inside a container) is an example of how the artist often uses incongruous associations to make a point
  • is an example of how the artist develops a creative idea - Hall first began to use tiny glass beads threaded onto wire to make three-dimensional objects in 1995; her first work using this technique, 'Occupied territory' (1995), consisted of eight differently shaped forms representing plants indigenous to Australia or those that have been imported, all made from threaded beads and nails and set inside a specially made vitrine; the beaded components of the objects in 'Cell culture' have been used to signify molecular structure
  • is based on a historical, scientific 'truth' - a number of the natural forms and creatures represented in the cabinet were sourced from actual collection specimens in the South Australian Museum, including an Australian frill-necked lizard and a fruit bat; however, the work reflects another kind of scientific 'truth', in that all materials, whether frogs' legs or Tupperware containers, are derived from simple elements; in this sense, 'Cell culture' is making reference to contemporary experiments in genetics and the uncertain future this promises
  • demonstrates technically skillful and inventive use of materials - working with glass beads is one of a number of technical methods Hall has used to explore and express ideas; other methods have included creating figures, heads and children's toys woven from videotape (from violent war films), fantastic microcosms created from carved plastic plumbing pipe, fruits of trade carved from soap, baby clothes knitted from shredded Coca Cola cans, small tumbling figures cut and shaped from sheet aluminium to make up the alphabet, and sardine cans containing moulded sections of the human figure and sprouting plants.