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For Prickly Lamp Lucy McRae applies the adaptive reuse capabilities that have made her work as a ‘body architect’ famous, to create a light. The work adds a protective skin to a floor light, transforming it into a new creature capable of intense labour and self-preservation – two qualities essential for women wanting to survive the harsh conditions common during the Australian colonial period.
  • Materials:
    • Legs: wood and brass; lamp made from steel; skin made from 20,000 pieces of wood hand dyed using natural vegetables dies into six shades of grey to black.
  • Dimensions:
    • varies per piece from approximately H 1500mm to H 2000mm.

For Broached Colonial Commissions Lucy McRae looked back at the living conditions of convict women and found the culture of the main settlements, such as Parramatta, exploitative and brutal.

McRae’s work as a ‘body architect’ sees her invent skins and limbs for currently unknown environments. We asked that Lucy apply this same methodology to an investigation of living conditions for the convict women of Australia during the colonial period. The result was the creation of a skin made from the simplest domestic objects. Along with the work of Max Lamb for the Broached Colonial Commissions, McRae’s work looks at basic conditions for survival. McRae reflects this need for survival onto the body by creating a stealthy looking creature, armoured with wooden spikes.

An indication of how hostile the terms of incarceration were for convict women can be gleaned from a report on the Parramatta Female Factory by Reverend Samuel Marsden, a landowner and community leader of the penal colony:

The number of women employed at the factory, under Mr. Oakes the superintendent, is one hundred and fifty; they have seventy children; there is not any room in the factory that can be called a bedroom for these women and children…I do not deem it either safe or prudent, that even thirty should sleep in the factory – which has been crowded all day with working people – could this be avoided; as the air must be bad and contagious. Were the magistrate to compel even half the number of women, with their children, to sleep in the factory, which belong to it, they could not exist. Not less than one hundred and twenty women are at large in the night to sleep where they can. Many of them pay four shillings per week for their lodgings and fire; they have no means but theft and prostitution to obtain this sum; and these vices are become so common and habitual, that the women will tell the magistrate that they have no other means to supply their necessities.
Third edition of Mr. Wentworth’s Account of Australasia

The Prickly Lamp is the metaphorical skin made visible of any person who has been forced to make dramatic changes to adapt to a hostile foreign culture, like that of the Parramatta Female Factory. McRae has taken simple objects and made an ornate, finely detailed armour out of them, a prickly skin that wards off potential predators.

The painstaking process of dying and attaching the pieces of wood to the found objects, tripod and lamp, represents a continuation of McRae’s work in creating organic decoration. McRae is best known for her photographic and film work. This is the first time the polymorphic outcomes of McRae’s design artistry have been used to create a limited edition object.

The slow and intimate process of dying and applying the small pieces of wood to the found objects illuminated the simple point of the piece; growing a new skin for an old body, adapting to a new environment, is a process that requires great care and attention to detail.

Lucy McRae

Lucy McRae is a trained interior designer who worked for design firms, then the Phillips Horizon lab, before establishing an independent studio practice. At Phillips she acquired the title of ‘body architect’. McRae continues working in this domain by creating video and photographic pieces where the body, often McRae’s own, is shown as an adapted organ reacting to internal and external conditions that are fantastical and powerful.

What makes McRae’s work unique is that the effects are achieved through adaptation of the most commonly available materials. The brilliance of McRae’s practice is in the subtlety and nuance that is brought to the most ubiquitous of materials, through the patterning and subtle manipulation of their intended use.

The Prickly lamps are made by a team of designers working alongside Lucy McRae and her sculpture technician Barnaby Monk.