Cabinet of CuriositiesArtist's comment
Lisa Cianci Small photo of artist

Small image of artwork

Two-way traffic - 'Dear William, Thankyou for your letter…'

This drawing is based on the idea of correspondence - letter writing as 'two-way traffic'. The choice of paper and ink - media used for writing letters, is the principal component of the work. The paper has been folded and unfolded and then soaked in black and blue writing ink.

The work represents conceptual travel, ideas and thoughts which crossed oceans in small envelopes. A circle with waves in the centre of the drawing is reminiscent of a porthole and the swirling waves around a ship.

I researched the stories of two scientists for this work - W.H. Bragg (dear William) and Frank Macfarlane Burnet - both Nobel Prize-winners. The fragments of text in the red boxes have been taken from Bragg's letters to the journal Nature, 1907-1908, discussing the nature of gamma and X rays. Although Bragg was physically isolated from his peers during the years he spent in Adelaide, he managed to keep up communications with them through personal correspondence, and letters to journals of this sort. In fact, in the reading I did for this project, I found that many historians suggest that the so-called 'tyranny of distance' was not necessarily a hindrance to scientists in Australia - that scientists in Britain could feel as great a sense of isolation as their antipodean counterparts.

There was a vast amount of imagery to be found in the histories of these two scientists. The hard part was choosing which aspects to portray. I toyed with images such as the drawings of insects by Burnet as a young man, and the early X ray photographs produced by Bragg. I chose to use fragments of text instead, as the recurring theme throughout my research was the letters that are preserved in archival collections, or referenced in historical publications. These were the most captivating and informative records of all.

The egg shape which encircles the picture - a unifying thread, in a sense - is an allusion to Burnet. I was able to browse through archival material from his records held at the University of Melbourne Archives. I was intrigued by the experiments involving the use of fertilised eggs to produce vaccines.

The drawing itself is made up of forty-two parts which are stored in two small drawers, Each part is an individual drawing, although abstract and fragmented, taken out of context. It is only when the work is assembled that one can see the whole and make some sense of the parts. So too, specimens collected in the original cabinets which sailed on the Endeavour were fragments taken away from the 'whole', or taken out of context, if you like.

This project for the Cabinet of Curiosities has allowed me to work in a way quite different from my usual artistic practice, in that my work often uses self portraiture and personal experience as a conceptual base. It has been a fascinating experience to use other people's stories as the source material for my work.

- Lisa Cianci
(See also Lisa's online Gallery)

[ The Cabinet | Bright Sparcs | ASAPWeb ]

Prepared by Tim Sherratt (
for publication on ASAPWeb. Last modified by Lisa Cianci, 20 August 1998.