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.”
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.
 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, 1:48:44,  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
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 Belinda Howden with contributions from Louise Dunn, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.