Robinson’s installation Beatrice defies categorisation. Is it a plant, an animal or a fantastical beast?

The inspiration for Beatrice combines two allegorical figures. The first is the mythic Greek sea monster Scylla. Having once been a beautiful sea nymph, Scylla was transformed into a treacherous sea monster by bathing in poisoned waters. With writhing tentacles, a female torso and a ring of barking dogs at her waist, Scylla is described as a chimera – a creature combining two or more parts of an animal. The second figure is the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter, written in 1844. Rappaccini, the father of a girl named Beatrice, was a scientist whose botanical experiments were barbaric and seen to contradict the natural order of God. This meant Rappaccini had tampered with nature. He had created a garden full of deadly plants. Beatrice grew up tending the poisonous jewel-like purple flowers of her father’s garden, making her resistant yet toxic to others. For Robinson, the figures of Scylla and Hawthorne’s Beatrice are twinned; both women are the making of a malicious creator and both are the embodiment of death.

Robinson’s Beatrice is a chimera of its own. The writhing tentacles of Scylla meet the poisonous purple plants of Rappacini’s garden. Robinson becomes a Rappaccini of sorts, she is the creator of a new species, splicing together a hybrid creature that defies the rules of nature.

Think and discuss

Look closely at Beatrice. What do the forms, colours, and textures of the sculpture remind you of? As a class make a list of all these things. Are there common observations? Which parts most remind you of an animal, plant or vegetable?

If Beatrice was alive, how might you think it would move? Would Beatrice be friendly or do you think this hybrid would be one to avoid?

Superstitions often prevent good or bad actions, for example breaking a mirror may bring you seven years bad luck. Research other superstitions designed to bring good or bad luck. Invent your own unique superstition.

Getting started

Bring the artist into the classroom

detail: Julia Robinson, Australia, 1981, Beatrice, 2020, Adelaide, silk, thread, felt, steel, brass, gold-plated copper, foam, cardboard, pins, fixings, dimensions variable; © Julia Robinson/Hugo Michell Gallery.

Making and Responding

Create a new species or a work of art inspired by your favourite book