A prominent figure on the Australian art scene, Fiona Hall embraces a broad range of media in her work (often involving series) including painting, photography, sculpture, installations, garden design and videos. Her creations explore the links between nature and culture, for example by endowing objects with new roles, interwoven with flora and fauna. She feels deeply concerned by the state of the world and endeavours to convey social and political messages in this regard. These are never dogmatic, but brought across with humour, so as to question rather than thrust in people’s faces. She tackles the themes of ecology, globalisation, history, the impact of colonisation and capitalism on the world, as well as the conservation of species…
“My art, which encompasses different themes and materials, is turning increasingly towards the topical issues to do with the environment, politics and society, and reacting to these challenges. And yet my aim is to bring together various aspects of these themes in a way that is poetically provocative and not merely educational.
This installation for the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire is a reaction both to the historical context of the period when the Château was built but also to the contemporary political agendas within the European Union. Separated by nearly a thousand years though they may be, these two eras share common goals of fortification and protectionism amid external threats and interests. The Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire was initially built as a fortress for protecting the region from possible enemy invasions by the neighbouring county. The European Union has taken the form of a protectorate, the aim of which was to provide unity and stability within the territory and, although it is continuing to show a united front, it is constantly undermined by disputes, unrest and potential defections among its Member States.
To bring my project to fruition, I looked to bees and hives to illustrate this concept of necessary unity in the face of social and political unrest. The European honey bee has long been considered a symbol of social harmony and cooperation. Within the same hive, bees work together for the common good. Science teaches us that each colony of bees is biologically programmed to work in cooperation. The same cannot be said of humans, who are so often driven by competition. These days, the health and welfare of bee colonies are also endangered because of our rampant use of pesticides in modern agriculture – whose link with Colony Collapse Disorder has been demonstrated – and because of the spread of the Varroa mite.
My installation comprises a group of 28 hives, representing the 28 nations currently members of the European Union. The hives are set up in a small wheat field, which reflects the long history of agriculture in the Loire Valley. Bread, once called “the food of life”, is regarded as a symbol of social cohesion: “breaking bread” is an act of mutual respect and sharing.
Right now, one of the points of discord and disagreement within the European Union is the UK’s decision to leave it: Brexit. Through the arrangement of the hives among the wheatsheaves, my installation reflects the UK’s imminent departure. Although an Australian citizen, and living a long way from the EU and its political turmoil, it is clear to me that the debates concerning the UK’s departure are being followed closely, even in our country. The European Union represents a powerful force on the international stage and the decisions it makes have an impact worldwide. The Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, an erstwhile fortress equipped with a drawbridge to protect itself from any enemy invasion, displays features in common with the contemporary infrastructure of the European Union. It is an ideal setting for my installation.” Fiona Hall
Fiona Hall au Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire - © DR
Fiona Hall is a painter, sculptor and photographer. She was born and spent her childhood in Sydney, Australia; her mother was a radio astronomer and her father a telephone technician. Her brother, Peter Gavin Hall, is a statistical mathematician. She began to show an interest in art from the age of 14. She graduated from East Sydney Technical School (ESTS) in 1975. Although this school did not teach photography, it was in this subject that she first caught the public eye during an exhibition on young Australian photographers.
Fiona Hall spent two years in England as Fay Godwin’s assistant, and her first personal exhibition was held in London in 1977. She returned briefly to Australia in 1978 to care for her sick mother, and exhibited in Melbourne.
She then enrolled in the Visual Studies Workshop (VSW) in Rochester, United States, where, after studying for four years, she was awarded a Master of Fine Arts. She spent one year as an artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art where she created The Antipodean Suite: “These photographs came about through a desire to transcribe […] some aspects of what is often still referred to as the Antipodes. […] Literal meaning is not the intention. Rather, a visual exploration […] to arrive at the cohesion of an idea”. Fiona Hall
In the 1980s, she travelled and worked in South Australia for the South Australian School of Art. She exhibited and produced several series of photographs. She gained public recognition through the work Paradisus Terrestris.
Fiona Hall designed and produced the Australian pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale.