Artist, industrial designer and jewellery maker Phillippa Carnemolla was the Artist in Residence at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for 2012 and a new exhibition, ‘Botanical Songforms’, will showcase her work until 31 May 2013.

Carnemolla’s gently pulsating Breathing Conifer is the centrepiece of the exhibition, which was made with the assistance of 80 young people and weighs 35 kilograms.

The kinetic hanging sculpture is composed of 120 copper leaves arranged to resemble the scales on a pine cone, and was conceived as a community art project with children living with disabilities and young people with challenges in their lives, each of whom coloured a scale.

Also a researcher in the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Carnemolla is closely affiliated with the Industrial Design Faculty, where she lectures and assists in the design studio.

“I am passionate about universal design. I am researching how redesigning or modifying homes can reduce the need for community care – for those who are elderly as well as those with an acquired disability,” she says.

“It is this link with designing in the community that led to my concept of co-creating, and the development of the Breathing Conifer as a community arts project.”

Breathing Conifer has an inner mechanism that resembles that of an umbrella. A small motor causes the mechanism to gently expand and contract, to give the impression that the sculpture is breathing. Suspended in The Fernery, “it invites viewers to be still and leave the city behind, to breathe, to be present,” says the artist.

The outer skin comprises 120 copper scales, each chemically etched with fold lines, which allow for a gentle curve. Carnemolla has incorporated a technique that was originally used by the American artist Helen Shirk, where she has dry-sandblasted and then oxidised the surface of each scale, which allowed her collaborators to draw on them with coloured pencils, generating a high-pigment, waterproof colour. “This was the key to making this project an inclusive and community-focused one,” says Carnemolla.

The artist uses 3D modelling and printing techniques to make her precious metal castings, like the bee ring and pendant. Her layered crescent pieces are chemically etched using photographic plates – a technology usually used to make support frames for computer chips.

This fine jewellery, as well as Carnemolla’s other work – including copper and timber sculpture – which celebrates the universality of life and the interdependence of plants and animals, will be on exhibition in the Garden Shop.

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