Born and raised in Adelaide, Kate Bohunnis (b.1990) is a South Australian artist known for producing pared back yet large-scale sculptural installations. Although Bohunnis was trained as a printmaker, and worked predominantly in screen-printing and linocut for several years, in 2017, during her studies at Flinders University, she shifted her focus to metal fabrication. The transition from two to three dimensions marked the beginning of Bohunnis’ deep engagement with ideas of ‘productive difference’ and ‘the power of uncertainty’ – metaphysical concepts developed by twentieth century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. For Bohunnis, moving objects off the wall and into the room was a material method of working with states of uncertainty and unknowing. “Productive difference is about purposefully disarming yourself from the things you know, the things you’re good at. It’s not about creating chaos; it is about trying to create productive change.”
 Kate Bohunnis, unpublished interview by Belinda Howden, Adelaide, 5 July, 2021, 17:44.
As a sculptor, Bohunnis has produced immersive installations using wax, silicone, linen, leather and latex in contradictory combinations with metal, and each other. The results are room-sized ensembles of sculptures – material gestures – charged with allusions to the body, sex, futility, violence and control. Staged in tense relation to one another, Bohunnis’ objects often take on anthropomorphic (human-like) or bodily qualities: a diagonal steel shaft impales a plump latex pillow, forcefully pinning it to the wall; a block of pink jelly wax bows mournfully in the thin grip of two tarnished metal rods; stainless steel hooks stretch a taught plane of latex like freshly flayed skin. Bohunnis undercuts the utility and functionality of her chosen materials, instead casting their given meanings and associations into a state of flux – aluminium undulates like a landscape, steel sheets are draped like textile, silicone transforms into flesh. “The way I see materials and identity is very similar. This one thing is served to you and it appears all the same; a tube is a tube, a piece of linen is a piece of linen. But when you add or subtract from it, it creates a different conversation…it can transform into many different things.”
 Kate Bohunnis, unpublished interview by Belinda Howden, Adelaide, 5 July, 2021, 1:11:02
In a recent in-conversation with Kate Bohunnis and Erin Davidson, Project Officer at AGSA hosted by Station, Melbourne, Bohunnis described her mother as an influential person in her life. Her mother was a very creative person, and as a child Kate had lots of freedoms – she was even allowed to draw on the walls at home!
- What’s something you would like to change about your bedroom that your parents won’t let you do?
- If there were no boundaries and you knew you wouldn’t fail, what is something you would like to do or create that you can’t do now?
Kate Bohunnis explores a variety of materials including metal, textiles, printmaking and sound to communicate her ideas. Select two very different mediums to create a work of art about the same idea.
While Bohunnis’ work is about personal experiences and identity, her ideas also develop through experimentation with materials. Kate is always willing to give anything a go where materials are concerned. She created all the elements of edges of excess, including the metal fabrication and took risks with using silicone, which can sometimes be a very unpredictable medium to work with.
- Challenge yourself to create a work of art using a single material. Experiment with everyday materials such as paper, toothpicks or fabric. Test its limits – tear cut, bend stretch, twist or overlap your chosen material.
- Make it move! Create kinetic sculpture about a personal experience or memory.
Gender stereotypes continue to be an area of interest for Bohunnis. In a recent in-conversation with Bohunnis and Erin Davidson, Project Officer at AGSA hosted by Station, Melbourne, Bohunnis discussed how she still found it surprising how she was often ignored or dismissed when purchasing materials for her work. In the 2021 exhibition fill me up and make me useful at Station, Melbourne, Bohunnis contrasts soft textiles with sharp steel.
- Create a work of art using two materials that have opposing textural qualities. How will you combine the two materials so that your work is cohesive or unified?
- Take it further: investigate other contemporary artists who explore or challenge gender stereotypes in their work, start by looking at British artist Grayson Perry.
In edges of excess (2020), first produced for ACE Open’s South Australian artist survey – if the future is to be worth anything – and for which Bohunnis won the 2021 Art Gallery of South Australia’s Ramsay Art Prize, a larger-than-life stainless-steel pendulum swings interminably just millimetres above a sagging strap of flesh-coloured silicone. The sculpture draws on Bohunnis’ familial history, her mother would use the pendulum as a tool of divination. “We used it to work out where we would go in our life, to heal the body, to find centre, to find direction. That was very alluring, to have this sort of magic navigation system. But, then it became risk indulgent. We overused it.” Bohunnis’ part-guillotine, part-timepiece generates an uneasy and unceasing sense of precarity. A once productive device becomes disarming and dangerous, a tool for chaos rather than productive change.
In Bohunnis’ practice, the relationship between metal and the body is always present. As one of the oldest elemental skills, the discipline of metal fabrication comes with a long and gendered history associated with male labour. To work in metal, Bohunnis says, “…people often comment, ‘you must be strong.’ There are specific ideas about my body – what I’m capable of, my abilities.” Awareness of the body extends to the spatial properties of sculpture and installation too. “I feel more of a presence standing in and around something rather than just looking at it. [Sculpture] has more of a bodily presence in the room. It can be calculated to my height and shape.” For Bohunnis, even metal itself holds bodily connotations, “Wood has always had a different feeling to me. It is too agricultural. Metal is industrial, it is sexy.”
 ABC Mornings with David Bevan, “Young South Australian artist Kate Bohunnis wins Ramsay Art Prize.,” interview with David Bevan, 21 May, 2021, 2:05,  Ibid, 36:45.  Ibid, 29:00,  Ibid
It is precisely the tensions between the surface properties of metal – industrial, mechanical, strong, cool, sleek, surgical – and its physically demanding fabrication processes – rolling, welding, pressing, casting and polishing – that favours Bohunnis’ explorations of subjectivity. In an active accumulation (2020) a highly polished steel tube vertically spans ceiling to floor. The cylinder, however, appears to buckle under its own weight. Its load-bearing strength becomes crumpled weakness, rigidity is transformed into collapse. Bohunnis used blacksmithing techniques to create the sculpture, heating the long steel tube in a forge – a furnace that reaches temperatures of over 1000 degrees Celsius – and then sledgehammering in its contortions. Kate Power, a contemporary of Bohunnis’, articulates this twinned material and conceptual approach, “…wrestling with a big sheet of steel or melting a slab of wax are gestures that could be considered in the context of our own lives.” Through metal, Bohunnis plays out the frustrations and contradictions of identity, control over the body and self – control over the metal body – as an object constantly doing and undoing, becoming and unbecoming.
 Kate Power, Strong House / Soft Walls, Adelaide: Sister Gallery, 2 Feb – 2 March 2018
Take a moment to look at the work edges of excess. If you have seen this work in situ, you will know that a larger-than-life stainless-steel pendulum swings interminably just millimetres above a sagging strap of flesh-coloured silicone.
- Let’s consider two parts of this work; the silicone and the pendulum. Select one of these components and list as many words as you can think of associated with what you see. It could be what these objects remind you of or what they would feel like if you touched them.
For example, the pendulum: some words that we brainstormed were time, cold, moving, side-to-side, mesmerising, metal. What other words can you think of to describe the pendulum? Where have you seen a pendulum before? What does it remind you of?
- Repeat this activity for ‘silicone’. Write these words on separate pieces of paper. Rearrange the words to create sentences or a poem about the work.
Bohunnis’ mother worked as a clairvoyant and used the pendulum as a tool for making decisions. Bohunnis explains: “We used it to work out where we would go in our life, to heal the body, to find centre, to find direction. That was very alluring, to have this sort of magic navigation system”.
- As a class make art game with each student contributing an instruction. For example: ‘Only use blue pastel or paint, ‘use your non-dominant hand to draw’ or select a new direction every 10 minutes’. You might also like to include a second set of words that provide themes or ideas, for example ‘favourite food’ or ‘a winters day’. Allow student to select their instruction and theme which will inform their art making for the lesson.
The words tension, vulnerable and danger come to mind when we describe Bohunnis’ work. Using edges of excess and one other work by Bohunnis explain how her work simultaneously has characteristics of tension, vulnerability and danger.
- Create a work of art about tension. Begin by brainstorming what tension is. When have you felt tense? Have you experienced or observed a tense moment in real life or perhaps on the news? Test a variety of materials to communicate your idea. How does your choice of material connect with your idea?
For Early Years and Primary
Catalogues and Articles
Alice, Jessica. “Towards the Edges of Excess.” In If the Future is to be Worth Anything, 24-29. Adelaide: ACE Open, 2020.
Dunnill, Anna. Kate Bohunnis: With each little death. Adelaide: FELTspace, 6-22 June 2019,
Kitto, Joanne. The incomprehensible wild: Kate Bohunnis, Sam Gold and Anna Gore, Adelaide: praxis ARTSPACE, 2020.
Llewellyn, Jane. “Artist Profile: Kate Bohunnis brings the inside out.” The Adelaide Review, 11 September 2018.
McDonald, John. “Artist Kate Bohunnis is one to watch – not least because she does the hard work herself.” Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May, 2021.
Marsh, Walter. “How Kate Bohunnis is making and breaking the mould.” InDaily, 9 June, 2021.
Power, Kate.Strong House / Soft Walls. Adelaide: Sister Gallery, 2 Feb – 2 March 2018.
Stephens, Andrew. “Emergent – Light, sound, print: Kate Bohunnis.” Imprint, vol. 52, no. 2 (Winter 2017): p9
Kate Bohunnis, artist website.
Jenkins, Hannah. “Kate Bohunnis' fabrications and frustrations.” firstdraft, blog, 26 November 2020
“Kate Bohunnis ‘Edges of Excess’ 2020, ACE Open.” Filmed as part of If the future is to be worth anything: 2020 South Australian artist survey. ACE Open, 1 October 2020, 1:24.
“Em König performs a sound response to Edges of Excess by Kate Bohunnis.” Performance filmed as part of fine print LIVE. fine print magazine and ACE Open, 31 October 2020, 3:24.
“MINDEROO x PICA Hatched 2018 | Kate Bohunnis.” Filmed as part of Hatched: National Graduate Show 2018. Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 12 July 2018, 1:19.
Podcasts and Interviews
ABC Mornings with David Bevan. “Young South Australian artist Kate Bohunnis wins Ramsay Art Prize.” Interview with David Bevan. 21 May, 2021. 6:18.
Bohunnis, Kate. Unpublished interview by Belinda Howden, Audio, 1:51:32. Adelaide, 5 July, 2021.
“Rebecca Evans in conversation with 2021 Ramsay Art Prize Winner Kate Bohunnis.” In Tuesday Talks. Interview with Rebecca Evans, produced by the Art Gallery of South Australia. Podcast, MP3, 21:47.
The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.
This education resource has been developed in collaboration with ACE Open and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Written by Dr. Belinda Howden with contributions from Louise Dunn, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.