Untitled (Xanthorrhoea; grasstree), 2005
aluminium & tin
35 x 19 cm

This particular sculpture, Untitled (Xanthorrhoea; grasstree), is part of a lineage that extends from Fiona Hall's earlier series, ‘Paradisus Terrestris entitled’ (1996), now in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, and ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ (1989-90), now in the collection of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. These series, informally known as Hall’s ‘sardine can’ works, delve into the intersections of human anatomy, botanical imagery, and cultural commentary.

Drawing inspiration from these acclaimed series, Hall has repurposed a sardine tin and an aluminium can to create Untitled (Xanthorrhoea; grasstree) wherein the erogenous zone of a human body is juxtaposed with a botanically accurate representation of native Australian flora, in this case, the Xanthorrhoea plant. This juxtaposition serves as a visual metaphor for the collision between culture and nature, echoing themes of environmentalism and colonialism prevalent throughout Hall's oeuvre.

The choice of the Xanthorrhoea plant as the focal point of this sculpture is significant. Also known as the Balga Grass Plant, the Xanthorrhoea plant holds cultural significance in Australian indigenous communities. The term "black boy," once colloquially used to refer to this plant, has since been recognised as offensive and racially charged. Through her practice, Hall brings attention to the complexities of language, identity, and cultural heritage in postcolonial contexts.

On the topic of Fiona Hall, art critic and journalist Sebastian Smee wrote in 2008: “Fiona Hall favours installations and long series of works that riff on ecological and political themes. But her work will last and continue to impress because it is so full of wit, so original and so grown-up. It is conceptual art with a human pulse and it never fails to delight.”

Fifteen years on, with the demand for Hall’s ‘sardine can’ works never waning, there is no doubt that her dedication to ecological and political themes, combined with her originality and wit, ensures her continued legacy as one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists.

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