Catherine Truman


Photograph of Catherine Truman.

Artist statement

If I were asked to define my practice in a single sentence I would say; I am a maker of objects about and for the human body.

For many years I have been absorbed in the ways in which the human body has been depicted by medical history - particularly in the spectacular Florentine models of wood and wax produced during the Italian Enlightenment. I am curious about their influence upon our personal interpretation of the body.

The eighteenth century anatomist, Felice Fontana, is widely attributed as the creator of several of these miraculous collections of objects.

Over many years now I’ve pursued these collections around the globe, traveling to Rome, Bologna, Cagliari, Padua, Florence, Milan, Oxford, Edinburgh, Leiden, Amsterdam and Utrecht and Vienna. I admit to an addiction. However, lately I feel my obsession is baring fruit.

I have begun to recognise that the images depicted in these sophisticated artificial anatomies are nuanced with the knowledge, understanding and personal identities of the individuals involved in their creation.
Some almost have the quality of self-portraiture and I am beginning to read them as three-dimensional narratives, as embodied stories, autobiographies of the people who made them.

Further to my ponderings about models and identity and portraiture, I came to question the aspects of our anatomy that readily identify us - of course, notably the face and the hands.
If these characteristics are omitted, how do we identify someone?

I call the series in this exhibition ‘1:5 Model without portrait’. The scale is 1:5, a scale commonly used for models; they are deliberately small – so all is taken in, in a single glance.

I‘m beginning to acknowledge that I can no longer separate the objects (those of the researched collections) from my experience of them.

The place, the season, the time of day, the architecture of the room, the play of light, the reflections on rippled glass, the carved wood of the cabinets, the wear of the tiles, the keepers of these collections, their eccentricities and me and all who are present cannot be separated from my experience of the objects.

All somehow reside in each other.

Catherine Truman - 2006

Additional artist statement

Human anatomy is so complex.

How can we believe and indeed embody the images of medical science when in reality, all we know of our interior is formed by intimate, ephemeral, physical and emotional sensations and our imagination?

Currently I am interested in the hand-making skills and keen observation of the individuals responsible for representing human anatomy throughout history - the people and the processes that have given it form.

In my experience a life is made up transient sensations that focus our awareness inside and my challenge is to bring this to an object to be worn on the surfaces of a body.

My recent work is made of styrene- a material common to model-makers. I have developed ways of forming this neutral white plastic that are akin to certain glass-glowing and lamp-working techniques.

Catherine Truman - 2009

Images of work

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Artist bio

Born in South Australia, Catherine Truman is co-founder of Gray Street Workshop in Adelaide.
Established in 1985 it is one of Australia’s longest running contemporary jewellery studios, hosting over 80 emerging and established practitioners.

In 1990 she was awarded the Japan/ South Australia Cultural Exchange scholarship and studied with contemporary Netsuke carvers in Tokyo. In 1994 Truman was awarded an Australia Council Multi-year fellowship.

Truman was a finalist in the Seppelt’s Contemporary Art Awards at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 1998.

In 2007 she was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Fellowship and selected as a Master of Australian Craft.

She has traveled and exhibited widely nationally and internationally including Schmuck , Munich, Germany and SOFA, NY, New York in 2007 and Collect, London in 2008. In 2008 she also presented a solo exhibition of new works titled “lifelike” at Galerie Ra in Amsterdam.

 Truman is represented in a number of major national and international collections including the Pinakothek Moderne, Munich, the Coda-museum, Apeldoorn, Netherlands, Museum of Auckland, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Powerhouse Museum, Artbank, and Art Gallery of South Australia.

She has completed a number of major public sculptural commissions including ‘Slate Pool Walkway’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia and ‘A Way of Seeing’ for David Jones, Adelaide.

Truman qualified as a practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method® in 1999 and has developed and taught many workshops on the subject of sustainable health for arts practitioners.

Truman’s work has always been informed by a strong political consciousness. Earlier work has dealt with social issues ranging from aging, housing and shelter through to more personal themes dealing with human intimacy.

Later work is centred upon investigations into the authenticity of the images we carry about our personal anatomy. The resulting objects characteristically carved from wood or wax are not exact anatomical replicas but rather evoke sensory responses of physical recognition and resemblance.