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Fiona Hall

Give a dog a bone  1996

soap, type C photograph, found objects

dimensions variable

Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds donated by Michael Darling, 1997

1997.18A-YYYY

About the Artwork

The title of this large-scale installation, Give a dog a bone, comes from an old English children’s song that ends with the line ‘This old man came rolling home’. The centrepiece of the work is the larger than life-size photograph of the artist’s father wrapped in a cloak knitted from soft drink cans bearing the globally recognisable symbol of consumption, Coca-Cola. The man has been compared to a tribal elder of industrial society yet he appears naked and vulnerable beneath the harsh material, and his expression is humble and sensitive rather than triumphant.

 The installation displays the detritus of our late twentieth-century urbanised lives as a multitude of everyday objects, carved laboriously from soap and laid out on stacked, used, cardboard boxes. The objects include a variety of manufactured and domestic items, as well as a sculpture of Buddha, bones, seed pods of Australian native plants, and piles of carved ‘turds’, or human excrement. At the core of Hall’s work is a concern with the intersection of nature and culture and in this installation the vagaries of fashion and industrial design reverberate against the nuances of the natural forms. These diverse and diverting forms are equalised as consumables by the bland yellow material of soap. This animal by-product was one of capitalism’s earliest and most profitable products, and it is also an unstable medium that parallels the potential obsolescence of everyday objects, and the brevity of life.

Give a dog a bone was originally installed in a shipping container in the exhibition Container 96: Art Across Oceans in Copenhagen, 1996. Artists from around the globe were invited to present a work that reflected upon their culture and global perspective. In this work a container was set up much like a ‘hobo’s cave’ containing the flotsam and jetsam of our contemporary urban lives mixed with seed pods from native plant species which placed the installation within an Australian context.

Fiona Hall, 2008

Fiona Hall

– About the artist

Born 1953, Sydney. Lives and works Hobart


Fiona Hall works across a broad range of media including painting, photography, sculpture and installation, often employing forms of museological display. Her work has a strong material basis. Recurrent themes include globalisation, the relationships between ecology and economy, systems of classification and domestic order and other comparative structures. Hall studied painting at the National Art School, Sydney in the 1970s and came to prominence as a photographer, but has extended into media including sculpture, installation, moving image and garden design.

Hall represented Australia at the 2015 Venice Biennale with the installation Wrong Way Time. She has been included in many important solo, group exhibitions and biennales over the past two decades, including The Wrong Way Time, The National Gallery of Australia (2016); 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2014); Australia, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2013); dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, Germany (2012); Biennale of Sydney (2000 and 2010); The Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2009); DeOverkant/Downunder, Den Haag Sculpture 2007, Netherlands (2007); Prism: Contemporary Australian Art, Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo (2006); Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968–2002, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2002); and Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (1997).

Major retrospectives of Hall’s work have been held by Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (both 2005). The survey exhibition Fiona Hall: Force Field held at the MCA, Sydney (2008), also toured to City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, New Zealand.

Hall’s work has been collected by all the major Australian state museums, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane. She has also completed a number of important public commissions, including: Folly for Mrs Macquarie, Sydney Sculpture Walk, Botanic Gardens (2000); Fern Garden, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (1998); and Occupied Territory, commissioned for the opening of the Museum of Sydney (1995).

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