Art vs. Science: A Discussion with Oron Catts

Walking into Biomess – The Tissue Culture and Art Project exhibition at AGWA is like stepping into a surreal combination of art exhibition, museum display and a scientific lab. Within well-polished David Jones-esque display cases sit an interesting array of living and dead organisms, including; live snails known for being hermaphrodites (having both male and female sex organs) in order to reproduce and the wing of a cross-bred Gallah and Corella.

Arising from 20 years of research at SymbioticA at UWA (a research lab and program that allows for artists to engage in biological scientific practices) Biomess is an accumulation of artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr interest in the rise of biological technologies and its attempt to control life. Sitting within two opposing fields, Catts and Zurr have the opportunity to conduct research and produce work that challenges and questions our perceptions as a culture.

We recently spoke with Oron Catts and discussed the intersection between art and science, and where he feels Biomess fits.

What influenced you to start the SymbioticA initiative?

In the early 90’s I did my Product Design degree at Curtin University, and I was looking at the potential to start designing living biological products. I recognised then what is becoming extremely obvious now; that life is treated as a raw material. Biology is becoming an engineering pursuit and product designers will be called upon to design biological products. I found this prospect extremely problematic, to say the least.

So did you study science as well?

No [laughs].

I’m not offended when I’m called a scientist, but I was never trained formally as a scientist, but in 1996 I entered the lab and never left.

To put it bluntly, my interest is not so much in science but in how we, as humans relate to life and how life is really changing. For the last 20 years, I’ve seen enormous shifts around life from the Human Genome Project to areas like synthetic biology.

Do you think that there is a relationship between art and science?

Yes totally.

Science is almost like the religion of our time. We use it to explain the world around us, but science and scientists don’t have the tools to make a cultural sense of it. As artists, it is our role to engage with the scientific field and use an artistic methodology to experiment in the ways science can’t.

If life is a raw material to be engineered and engineers, business people and scientists can make decisions on what is to be done to life, then artists should be there as well.

What is interesting about an artistic practice is that unlike scientists, who are very much expected to find an answer to a question, artists don’t have those expectations. We’re allowed to ask questions and there’s no need for us to come to a conclusion.

That’s why I decided to not continue on as a designer, because design is similar, they are looking for solutions.

A lot of the questions around science and art relationships, from my perspective, are addressed at SymbioticA. We are in a unique position where it is an artistic based research centre embedded in a scientific environment.

There’s an idea that when one becomes embedded in an institution one loses a sense of autonomy. We found that at SymbioticA, we have total autonomy to engage with subject matter without interference.

This show is unlike anything exhibited in AGWA before. Do you feel your work is often called into question?

Yes constantly. On many different levels, Biomess is about confusing people and questioning what an institution is. For example we’re working with the WA Museum and a lot of the works in the show are from the collection, but putting these organisms into those luxury display; ‘How does this change the audience readings?’


It’s important to make art that enables people to question their own idea of what art is. In your opinion, what makes something art?

Intentions. So the same objects can be seen as many different things, but also the canonisation of these objects within the structure of the gallery.

One of the things we realised quite early was the constant resistance to putting living organisms within the gallery space. Places like AGWA and the WA Museum are designed to conserve and maintain objects and organisms, thus many things in a museum are preserved.

So bringing something living into the museum or gallery, just by itself, it’s already an intervention that we take for granted.

So you’re interested in the clash between all the different ways life is classified, and how you can challenge this?

Yeah! By putting something that changes over time, that can die, that survives, this is part of the critique we have about the objectification of life.

I think the most important part of this work is that ‘I don’t know’. We’re supposed to know everything, especially in the 21st century and our continuous access to information, but really in relation to life, we know so little.

I think that ‘I don’t know’ factor of the work is important.

Absolutely. The licence we have to engage with these sorts of questions is constantly being asked as well. That’s okay, we have to raise these complexities. That’s why we named this show Biomess, because this show is not about the clean, neat answers that everyone strives for. It’s about the messiness of life.

There are no clean neat answers, especially when it comes to life.


Curator Talk

Join Oron Catts Saturday 20 October at 11.30am in the Biomess exhibition space.


In celebration of Unhallowed Arts Biomess will remain open on Friday 19 October until 8pm. Entry is free! Why not combine a visit to Biomess with a visit to PICA as they launch HyperPrometheus commemorating the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinor the Modern Prometheus (1818).


A lecture about a rebel or two


“I would not shoot them as I could not blame them, they had to do their duty I said I did
not blame them for doing honest duty but I could not suffer them blowing me to pieces
in my own native land…But I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.” – Ned Kelly (1879).

We all know the story of Ned Kelly; the young Irish larrikin who became an outlaw and was the target of one of the most legendary police chases in Australian history, before finally being captured, tried and hung on a number of charges, including the murder of three policemen.

The Kelly myth has been retold and reinterpreted by many artists and writers, but none as enduring and iconic as Sidney Nolan’s masterful series, which chronicles the life and death of the bushranger with both emotion and eccentricity.

On loan from the National Gallery of Australia, 26 of the 27 paintings are currently on display for a limited time until 12 November at AGWA.

NGA’s Head of Australian Art, Deborah Hart, recently delivered an insightful lecture on the series and Ned Kelly to a sellout crowd.

With humour and insightful anecdotes, Hart’s presentation into Nolan’s life and the facts of the Kelly story provided the audience with a fresh look at the series particularly those who had viewed this exhibition previously in Canberra.

Beginning her talk with the iconic image of Nolan’s Ned Kelly riding horseback through the Australian landscape, the lecture discussed Nolan’s time as a young man serving in World War Two and how this event influenced his decision to explore the meaning behind Australian identity.

“I think she gave such a good framework to understanding the series and pointing out the idiosyncrasies Nolan used and re-interpreted versus the factual basis of the story,” said AGWA Voluntary Guru Guide Rosemary Miller.

What I particularly enjoyed about the lecture was the connections Hart made between the two men. She stated, “There’s actually a very strange connection between Nolan and Ned Kelly because for a short time Nolan had been on the run like Kelly. Kelly had also come from a long line of impoverished Irish settlers and I think Nolan could relate to that sense of injustice.”

Hart also placed emphasis on viewing Nolan’s series as a masterfully completed work of art.

Sue Sauer, AGWA Member and Voluntary Guru Guide said, “We were encouraged to look at both Ned Kelly and the landscape which is an important part of the story.”

Hart’s lecture sparked fierce debate and conversation amongst those who attended. While Hart provided the public with detailed knowledge on the background of Nolan’s series and its relation to the history of the Kelly myth, she instilled in her audience the importance of this series to Australian culture.

These lectures are organised by the Gallery’s AGWA Members program and once a month for 3 months, we host a lecture series to celebrate the Rebels, Radical and Pathfinders season. Attend individual lectures or buy a Members season pass for $15 to attend the remaining two. If you have already purchased a ticket to one of the lectures, contact the AGWA Members Office at any point during the season to have that event ticket credited towards a season pass purchase.

Learn more about AGWA Membership and other upcoming events by visiting

Re-Imagining History: Launch of AGWA’s Historical Collection

AGWA Historical Install LR

August 11th marked an important day in AGWA history, as the gallery celebrated the reopening of its Historical collection; part of the permanent AGWA Collection displays which spans across many time periods in Australian and international art.

Moving from the Centenary Galleries, the historical collection is now located upstairs alongside AGWA Six Seasons, Screen Space and the contemporary craft and design in AGWA Design.

The reopening of AGWA Historical offers an exciting opportunity to revisit the Gallery’s permanent collection and experience the works in a new and refreshing way.

“There is a lot of architecture in the Centenary Galleries which impacted on the display,” said Melissa Harpley, Curator of Historical and Modern Art.

“Moving the historical works into the main gallery space has taken that visual interference out so that you can see the works differently.  As a curator, it enabled me to make some interesting groupings and provided more flexibility in the placement of works than was possible in the Centenary Galleries.”

Unlike the Centenary Galleries, which is mostly comprised of long-established square rooms, the central gallery space is designed in a triangular shape, which enhances the viewing of the collection.

“What is so fantastic about this building is the fact that it doesn’t have right angles,” she said.

“It allows those visual connections which are important for art. You can stand in some spaces of the gallery and see a 1860s landscape, but you might also see a Heidelberg landscape and a Hans Heysen from 1914. You couldn’t do that in the Centenary Galleries.”

The AGWA Historical will undergo two separate iterations. The first hang coincided with another important historical exhibition, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series which opened the same day.

“There’s one point where Ned Kelly and Historical share a wall, and we’ve managed to design the show, so the Ned Kelly work sits next to the Hans Heysen. I think there’s a nice connection between not only the approach to the Australian landscape but even down to the two men on horses echoed in both paintings.”

The second iteration of AGWA Historical is scheduled for November and Melissa said she is excited about the upcoming curatorial possibilities and encourages the public to attend both reprises of the collection.

“Looking at the works in the historical collection, particularly the ones with figures, humans haven’t changed. The works from the past are still very much a meditation or commentary on what it means to be human and what it means to be in the world,” says Melissa.

“I think people will connect with that because it’s as relevant now as it was then.”

Glimpse into the collection

Find out more about the AGWA Historical Collection visit our website

Free Guided Tours

Join a free guided tour of AGWA Historical or one of our other fantastic collections.




Hopetoun residency unveils a complex history

Gustav LR
spaced 3: north by southeast artist Gustav Hellberg

Swedish artist, Gustav Hellberg’s new work Amnesia is influenced by his time in the Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun region, located approximately 590 kilometres from Perth.

His film explores the absence of knowledge and the unspoken histories of the Ravensthorpe region, its nature, and also the people who have been active in this land. We sat down recently with Gustav to talk more about the project.

“I wanted to participate in this project because of my interest in land and property, who owns it and who has the right to land. I have also been doing a few works involved with nationality. That is a subject that I strongly question in my work,” says Gustav.

“Australia and Scandinavia have a few similarities in that both have a small population in a large land mass and a turbulent history involving the indigenous people. Mining is another commonality between the two and the terrible effects that this is doing to the natural landscape.”

“This particular project was challenging in the sense that I knew absolutely nothing about Western Australia and therefore did not know what to expect. I also did not want to go into this project with any false presumptions. As I did more research and on subsequent visits to the area I discovered that there was a fascinating and dark past to the township that appeared to have been lost over the generations.”

Gustav visited Hopetoun four times over the project’s three-year lifespan with each visit providing him more information about the history, the land and its people. His final project is made of three main sections: a video film, a video installation and a collection of artefacts together with text material.

“The reality is always complex and usually too large for one individual to comprehend. To me, this relatively small geographical area between Fitzgerald River in the west and Jerdacuttup River in the east, Ravensthorpe Range in the north and the Southern Ocean in the south, is overwhelmingly large. So is its entire history, as well as the history of people that have lived here for thousands of years.”

“I hope my work will help us to remember and to create a sustainable life for the future in Hopetoun, Ravensthorpe, Western Australia and anywhere.”

Gustav will share more about his time on the spaced 3: north by southeast project and the community collaboration involved in the upcoming free event In conversation with spaced 3 – Panel Discussion” on the 18 August. 

spaced 3: north southeast is organised by the WA-based International Art Space.

You can also read more about his journey by visiting Gustav’s blog.

Add some bling to the State Art Collection


On 13 October the next exhibition in AGWA’s successful Culture Juice program will open. It’s called Beyond Bling! and it will celebrate the art, design and craft of jewellery, showcasing the best, the bizarre and the sophisticated jewels in AGWA’s historical, contemporary and Indigenous collections.

Curator Robert Cook says, “Some of our most loved works at the Gallery are to be found in our jewellery holdings. Indeed, we’ve got the most sensational array of historical, modern and contemporary rings, brooches, neckpieces, bracelets, as well as those strange semi-sculptural objects that are a little bit of all of those forms.”

“While we’ve offered our audiences strong selections of jewellery in our Craft and Design Triennials, and in our solo displays of makers such as WA’s David Walker, and the late internationally renowned maker Mari Funaki, it’s an area that has not been seen as a big group in decades. Our happy antidote to this is a show called Beyond Bling! We’re all totally passionate about it. It will take visitors on a dazzling journey of this most intimate, most personal and sometimes most outrageous of art forms. And yes, preparing the show has been an amazing experience. Literally, so many riches!”

“Excitingly, our old favourites will be joined by numerous new acquisitions, acquisitions that we have been steadily making to continually address the developments in this field, locally, nationally and internationally. As incredible as these are, it’s our belief that we can go even further.”

There is a unique opportunity for audiences to contribute toward the acquisition of new jewellery pieces, for both the State Art Collection and display in the upcoming exhibition. As curator Robert Cook explains, “We can make an even bigger impact. We can set our collective sights on transforming this collection area with some new acquisitions that will make us the envy of design collections the world over. We have the platform to be truly amazing.” Those who contribute can visit AGWA in October to see the outcome of their support.

AGWA’s Director, Dr Stefano Carboni, reinforces the impact of philanthropy on what AGWA can achieve. “I believe that art matters, it is meaningful, and it should be shared so that we can all embrace it with imagination and passion. By collecting works of art for your Gallery, we are building a dynamic and continuously evolving collection for the benefit of all Western Australians, now and into the future.”

“The piece pictured above by Dinosaur Designs was purchased through the AGWA Foundation in 2014. It holds a special place in the State Art Collection and provides a source of inspiration for visitors whenever it is on display, and so too will the new acquisitions that you can support. Together we can weave a stronger cultural fabric for all of WA.”

You can donate online now or for further information, you can call the AGWA Foundation on +61 8 9492 6761 or email

Image credit



Dinosaur Designs
Collar bone 2014
Resin and rope
85 x 152 x 14 cm
State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia
Purchased through the Peter Fogarty Design Fund, Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation, 2014
© Dinosaur Designs 2014

Toast farewell to the Corsini Collection at an exclusive dinner event


Toast farewell to Corsini this weekend. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography & Ed Fetahovic

On Saturday 16 June, toast farewell to the Corsini Collection over a magnificent Italian feast.

Renowned winemaker, Juniper, Margaret River, has matched their award-winning wines to a five-course degustation menu that features fresh and innovative Italian cuisine.

Hal Bibby of Juniper, Margaret River says, “Our chief Winemaker, Mark Messenger has selected across our range to pair with the menu designed by Faith Nichols from Comestibles.

“In keeping with the Corsini theme, our first pairings are with two Fianos, an Italian white variety made in differing styles. The gold medal-winning Juniper Small Batch Fiano 2017 which is a vibrant and refreshing style will complement the delicate components of every aspect of the first course,” says Bibby.

“The Higher Plane Fiano 2017– also a gold medal winner – is a more complex wine that will amplify the flavours in the delicate risotto and chicken brodo superbly, its sapidity echoing the accompanying garnishes.”

“Our third course matching challenges convention, but should be sensational. We are pairing our Gold medal winning Juniper Estate Semillon 2007 with the honey glazed loin of lamb, as bottle age has magnified the richness in this wine to make it the perfect foil to the various elements in this dish with its body and honied development.”

“The softness, depth and breadth of the flavour of the Juniper Estate Shiraz 2012 will pull together the various components of the chicken dish magnificently.”

“Our final pairing features a dish that could not be more appropriate for the Juniper Estate Cane Cut Riesling 2017. It is made to retain acidity to corset the sweetness in the wine so that it is clean and refreshing.”

Limited to only 50 seats, this superb send-off will be set in the Corsini exhibition entrance, surrounded by immersive palace photo backdrops – steps away from the prized collection.

Be in the draw to win a Gallery hamper valued at $250

Guest will have exclusive private access to the exhibition with AGWA Guru Guides on hand for insights into the works of art.

Stefano Carboni, AGWA Director, says, “This is a unique way to experience the exhibition and immerse yourself in Italian culture. The first event was a sell-out success, and I know interest is high in this second more intimate opportunity.”

It’s a brilliant way to say ciao to your favourite works in the Corsini Collection.

Every ticket purchased will also go into the draw to win an amazing Gallery hamper valued at $250 and features two bottles of wine from Juniper, Margaret River, Corsini inspired gifts and beautifully illustrated hardcover Italian themed catalogues.

Book your tickets here.

On arrival
Juniper Estate Blanc de Blanc 2015

Course one
A dainty dish of preserved zucchini flavoured with lemon zest and fresh oregano,  accompanied by burrata and finely sliced Cerignola olives
Matched with Juniper Small Batch Fiano 2017

Course two

A delicate risotto cooked in Fiano and chicken brodo garnished with freshly grated parmigiana reggiano and crisped sage leaves
Matched with Higher Plane Fiano 2017

Course three
Honey glazed loin of lamb poached in a little dry white wine served with braised fennel and the drizzle of the poaching liquid
Matched with Aged Juniper Estate Semillon

Course four
Breast of Mahogany Creek Chicken in a citrus juniper marinade accompanied with a shallot chestnut Vin Santo sauce served with kipfler potatoes and grilled radicchio
Matched with Aged Juniper Estate Shiraz 2012

Course five
Chilled Lemon cream garnished with chopped candied lemon peel, berries icing sugar and lemon biscuits
Matched with Juniper Estate Cane Cut Riesling 2017

Course six to accompany coffee
Amaretti , nougat and candied fruits


Guru Guides Reflect on the Corsini Collection

As A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection exhibition comes to a close on the 18 June, we catch up with Voluntary Guru Guides Stephanie Watson and Louise Gillett to find out which work was their favourite and what they’ve enjoyed most about the exhibition.

Louise Gillett

Guiding the Corsini has been an exciting ride. To date, I have conducted 18 public tours with four more to go before the show finishes. Researching and preparing has been hugely interesting and I learn more with each tour as patrons ask questions and provide opinions.

Guru Guide Louise Gillett sharing her insights on Botticelli’s Madonna and Child

My favourite work?

The Botticelli, of course! To witness Botticelli’s poignant intention to suggest the Crucifixion in a work depicting Christ as an infant, is very moving. The rendering in tempera with all of the attendant precision and expertise seems to exemplify the artist’s deep Christian conviction, a desire to assert belief in the face of rampant humanism. The classical restraint, beauty and symmetry of those faces- breathtaking! It is always rewarding to guide this work; to provide the Christian explanation to patrons who are not aware of it and to witness the knowing nods of those who are familiar with the narrative and symbolism. This sharing of knowledge and experience in front of great art is what drives me as a Guide.

Stephanie Watson:

My favourite work:
While Botticelli’s touching painting “Madonna and Child with Six Angels” is undoubtedly the star of the show, I am also drawn to Giovanni Santi’s modest work. For me, its evocation of “Birth of Venus” relates to one of the world’s great artistic treasures.

Giovanni Santi’s painting of the Muse of History, Clio, shows her not with her traditional scroll, but enveloped in the gorgeous, swirling drapery of her beautiful blue gown. Fittingly, blue was the most expensive of paint pigments. Her hair floats behind her, echoing not only the movement of her dress but also the trees in the background.

Giovanni Santi (Colbordolo 1435-Urbino 1494) Clio from The Muses circa 1480-90. Tempera on board, 820 x 390mm. Florence, Galleria Corsini

A hallmark of the Renaissance is the device of framing; here rocks and vegetation surround the central image. Another was a renewed interest in the classical world, which interestingly, sat comfortably with the deeply religious mood of the time. Clio’s almost bare feet reflect the philosophy of humanism and naturalism which was replacing the waning Medieval ethos.

The ‘flatness’ of the figure and detachment of the Muse are also elements of that earlier style. The traditional medium of egg tempera on wood panel soon to be overtaken by the new material of oil on linen has also been used. Giovanni’s far more famous son Raphael began his education in the studio of his father at the Palazzo of the Duke of Urbino. While his soaring talent soon outstretched his father’s, this painting can still charm us with its beauty.

A special moment in one of my tours was the texting conversation between one of the visitors to the exhibition and her cousin who was at work in the Palazzo Corsini in Florence at that very moment, bringing extra life to this wonderful exhibition.


Corsini Opening Day - A Florentine Festival Day

With so many stories behind each work, our fantastic guides have captured the imagination of over 30,000 visitors since the opening of the exhibition. We thank them for their amazing work.

Why the classical world was attractive to Europe in the fifteenth century


Traditionally attributed to Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-London 1641) Prometheus and the Eagle early 17th century (detail). Oil on canvas, 1100 x 1610mm. Galleria Corsini, Florence.


The oldest paintings from the Corsini Collection currently on display are by Giovanni Santi and date from the late 1400s. They feature the Olympian god Apollo and three of the Muses. Other paintings on display also feature subjects drawn from Greek mythology, such as del Mazziere’s panel based on the Roman poet Ovid’s account in his Metamorphoses, and Rombouts’ confronting image of Prometheus and the Eagle.  At the time that they were painted, these images were being made by artists for patrons who were also commissioning paintings of more traditional Christian subject matter, portraits, and genre scenes.

So why was the classical world attractive to Europe in the fifteenth century? Perhaps some answers can be found in a closer examination of these paintings.

Santi’s paintings of Apollo and the Muses were once part of a larger decorative cycle commissioned by the Duke of Urbino for one of two small ‘temples’ within the ducal palace. The other ‘temple’ was the Duke’s private chapel, and this proximity of Christian and pagan imagery is revealing. Together the two spaces make manifest the Duke’s spirituality, his learning, and the importance of the balance between the active and contemplative life for a ruler.

Exhibition: A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence featuring works by Giovanni Santi The Muses circa 1480-90. Florence, Galleria Corsini.


Ovid’s Metamorphoses was a popular source of subject matter for Renaissance artists in Italy. Here, del Mazziere has depicted the tales of Apollo and Daphne and Narcissus in the one panel. We see Daphne changing into a laurel tree in order to escape Apollo’s attention, and Narcissus lying dead by the pool – the victim of his own vanity. The artist is clearly captivated by the idea of profane, rather than sacred, love and uses the tales of Ovid to warn of the dangers of unrequited love.

Antonio di Donnino del Mazziere (Florence late 15th century-1547) Mythological Scene (Fables of Apollo, Daphne and Narcissus) early 1520s. Oil and gold on board, 300 x 430mm. Florence. Galleria Corsini.

The warnings of Greek myth was also used as a subject by Rombouts in his depiction of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and gave it to humans. For this transgression he was punished by Zeus and his fate was to have his liver torn out by an eagle (the emblem of Zeus). But his wounds healed overnight, and so this torture was repeated daily until he was rescued by Heracles, the son of Zeus.

A Landmark Vehicle for Alfa Romeo


As drivers and fans of Alfa Romeo, the second vehicle in the new line-up is pivotal to the renaissance of the Alfa Romeo brand. A brand that is synonymous with Italian motoring Heritage ……. Design ……. Style and…….Performance.

Every model built, is built to deliver beautiful, inspirational and a human-centric driving experience. Each model is more than just a machine, it is the symbol of an underlying technological quest and engineering evolution, the uncompromising excellence, the symbol that is Made In Italy. Alfa Romeo is not just a brand for the Car Enthusiast, it is the archetypal drivers’ vehicle.

ARHA0184_1900 Berlina 1950-1958
The 1900 Berlina was the first car in Alfa’s history to be built without a separate chassis.

Over 100 years of Italian Racing heritage is hard to ignore. So it wasn’t!

Stelvio is a landmark vehicle as the first ever Alfa Romeo SUV. It follows on closely from the award-winning Giulia as the second vehicle in the Alfa Romeo line up to be built using the groundbreaking Giorgio platform.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to drive the Giulia can attest that the vehicle is truly something special with its dynamic handling and performance that goes hand in hand with styling and design that Alfa Romeo is renowned for.

The Stelvio does not stray from this. Power with balance makes a car feel alive and the driver feel the same way. These principles have made the Stelvio the first SUV worthy of an Alfa Romeo badge. But it is how it feels behind the wheel that makes it truly an Alfa Romeo.

The Giulia Quadrifoglio led Alfa Romeo’s resurgence as it confirmed it’s performance credentials by setting the current lap record for a production sedan around the Nur-burg-ring.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, with its 2.9-litre twin turbo V6, has followed suit by also setting the current Nur-burg-ring lap record for the SUV category.


Alfa Romeo’s new Stelvio


Stelvio truly is a functional SUV for the active lifestyle that still has the balance and poise to make it truly an Alfa Romeo.

Stelvio marks a pivotal moment in the history of Alfa Romeo as it re-establishes itself as a benchmark automotive brand for design and performance.

As aptly put by Ralph Gilles, head of design at Alfa Romeo. “If you own one of these cars, you’re automatically different from everybody and you’re also a little more passionate, you have a little more zest for life.”

Alfa Romeo and Barbagallo are partners of A Window on Italy – The Corsini Collection: Masterpieces from Florence and have kindly provided the AGWA Alfa to help us celebrate the international exhibition.

Keep an eye out for the AGWA Alfa and if you see it, snap a pic and share it with us by #CorsiniCollection.  You’ll automatically go in the draw to win some great prizes.

Visit our partner’s page at

Tom Moore and that Pyrotechnic puffer fish

studio portrait

It was Tom Moore’s meticulous attention to detail and execution of a unique concept that captured the attention and votes of the Tom Malone Prize judges this year. We talk to Tom Moore about his award-winning piece the Pyrotechnic puffer fish and the challenges facing glass artistry.

Tell us how you came to the idea of the Pyrotechnic puffer fish?

puffer cup

I have been researching how the wider cultural context of Renaissance Italy influenced the kinds of glass objects that were produced and the social functions and meanings of these objects.

During the 16th-century, objects displaying the fine network of white glass lines such as in these goblet-bowls were thought to be imbued with miraculous properties and were collected in cabinets of curiosity alongside specimens of unicorn horn and pufferfish. I saw one of these pufferfish in a Museum in Florence and could not get it out of my head. It seemed weirdly aware of its placement in the collection. This species has an extremely satisfying form to translate and inflate as hot glass.

Renaissance glassmakers were closely aligned with alchemists. The transformation of sand and plant-ash into glass through the intense heat of the furnace was regarded as a marvellous demonstration of human ingenuity and virtuous artifice. The burning match is intended as a reminder of the pyrotechnic nature of this material.  The absurd drinking vessel in the form of a bent funnel refers to laboratory apparatus and to a rich tradition of trick-glasses that were surprising to look at and intentionally difficult to use. The position of the pufferfish as oversized stems adds to the joke.

It’s a very detailed and beautiful piece of work. How long from conception to completion did this project take and were there any challenges along the way?

It is difficult to calculate the amount of time taken to complete complex objects such as these because there are several processes involved over several weeks. Designing the work and preparing all the parts takes many hours. I complete a full-scale drawing that is meticulously planned.  Coloured and clear glass is combined and stretched to make patterned rods. These are used to create the fine patterned lines within the blown forms, and all the small parts: eyes, fins, teeth, match and flame. The final forming of the parts requires an assistant. All in all these works took approximately 30 hours including the assistant.

There is a certain amount of risk involved in working on forms for such prolonged periods. The glass must be re-heated every couple of minutes or it will crack, but it must not be over-heated or it will melt. It is attached to metal rods while it is being worked and these must be kept turning.

Bending the funnel is a risky moment. After focussing heat on the long skinny neck it becomes difficult to control and after bending it is off-centred which makes the constant turning awkward. Putting the dentures into the fishes mouths is a fussy step and I only get one shot to stick them in the right place.

You’ve taken on the challenge of achieving a carbon neutral art practise. Tell us a bit more about this and is it something that glass artists should be using?

As a contemporary artist who has the privilege of continuing to practice a traditional pyrotechnic craft, I feel compelled to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation.


Tom Moore blowing glassI know that there is an inherent contradiction in making objects that overtly display their complicity in continuing to create these problems. I also believe that this contradiction adds to the communicative potential of glass artworks.  I decided that I could not justify continuing to make objects that seek to navigate my concerns without offsetting 150% of the own carbon impact of making. This is a tricky issue to speak about, I don’t feel I can say my colleagues should be minimising and offsetting their carbon impact, however, my own experience has shown that calculating and offsetting an art practice is surprisingly achievable.

This is not the first time you’ve been awarded the Tom Malone Prize. What do you enjoy about the exhibition and will we see another project from you in the next one!

It is very gratifying to have work shortlisted for this prize so that it can sit amongst its peers. It is a great honour to have my work selected twice for inclusion in the permanent collection at AGWA, this helps the audience to appreciate the breadth of an individual art practice and how it evolves over time. I am pleased that some traditional Venetian decorative techniques and references to the historical forms of the goblet and scientific labware are now part of the growing collection.

The wider collection of winners is a unique record of the Australian glassmaking community. I am very grateful to the sponsors of the Tom Malone Prize for giving this group of specialised makers the impetus to strive toward ambitious works.  I am certain that I will continue to participate in this important national survey exhibition.

View the Tom Malone Prize exhibition before it closes 28 May.

To view more of Tom Moore’s work visit his official page.

Images courtesy of the artist Tom Moore.