The Breast
Drawings and Sculptures

Inspired by the experience and challenges of motherhood and the intimate mother-child bond, artist Tania Virgona explores the form, purpose and significance of the female breast in a series of woodworks and graphite drawings.
The volva shape regularly appears in Virgona’s works often referencing female, leaf or flower formations, sometime the eye or the mouth. Other times the form is used as a gate way between the inner and outer, from one place to another or as a form to indicate direction such as an arrow. In this body of work the volva form takes on the notion of the breast.
In our modern society, the breast is referred to as an object of sex where it is used to sell, allure and seduce. This orientation can make women and mothers feel shame and self-conscious when it comes to exercising their choice to breast-feeding in public. The line between function and objectification becomes blurred not only for the viewer but also for the women.
To an infant the breast is the mother that provides food, comfort, security and holding. This holding contributes to the infant’s developing understanding of their body and self-awareness.
Virgona’s artworks represent more than just the soft, gentle, feeling nature of the breast. The breasts portrayed in the drawings are soft and sensual; there’s a pulse beating under the skin. And yet all is not as it seems. In the woodworks, the breast is no longer soft and supple but hard and unyielding. And it’s this duality that lies at the heart of this work; as much as the breast can nurture and sustain life, it can also deplete the nurturer to the point of self-sacrifice. It’s here that the inner feeling space bumps up against the demands of the outer world. Virgona instances a passage from Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés on the demands made on women: “against our wills, our empathy overflows [and] our milk runs down our bellies. We as women must take the time, advises Pinkola Estés, to “ ‘put on the brass brassiere’. Stop running the milk train. Do the work of turning towards home.”
The breasts carved out of hardwood resemble breast plates and embody the yang element – the masculine –without losing the circularity and flowing quality of the feminine. These breast shields are the antidote to the emotional leakage and contain and protect the nurturer. This resembles sthe process of taking back the breast.
Virgona goes on to explain that the very act of carving and imposing her will on a piece of wood has echoes in child rearing: how much do we allow another human being to come forth and how much do we mould them? Her work also references the natural world with motifs including fish, birds and trees and represents our relationship with the earth. To what extent do we influence our environment and to what extent are we influenced by our environment. She talks of experiencing the Divine in Mother Nature and of sharing the Aboriginal belief in the earth as an entity with a consciousness.
‘The Breast’ explores a series of interdependent relationships and is essentially a discourse about how we interact with others, with our inner and outer worlds and, ultimately, with nature.

By Charlotte Francise

Art and Environment Project for the Shire of The Yarra Ranges.

The aim of this project was to make connections with the land, the site, ritual, our own Identity and states of being with self and each other. A a structure was created for individuals to sit at and weave their story into it as they shared it with others. This project facilitated an exploration of ones own creativity and ability to contribute to a whole that was based on union and respect for differences. Through the act of twining together they part-took in a ritual. I sat in the site for 6 days creating the weaving welcoming passers-by to join in. Participants were encouraged to bring materials from their home to weave into the structure. A total of 5 ephemeral art projects ran concurrently working with different sectors of the community. These workshops and the Art and Environment festival initiated awareness for permanent public artworks which was installed soon after.

Cane, natural fibres and wool
2m x 2m

Artist In Residence @ The Geelong Botanic Gardens

This residency allowed me to create and explore a body of work within the space of the Geelong Botanical Gardens. These ephemeral installations took on the concept of ‘Earth as Clay’, which is about going beneath the surface and making the dark unseen aspects part of the human periphery. This enabled the earth to be shaped above and below the surface taking on a process of construction and deconstruction, evolving over a period of time by weathering, decay and growth, which can create a new variation if not a completely different piece of artwork. It is a process that is about working in collaboration with mother earth. The out comes of this residence broadened the perceptions of the way the Geelong Botanic Gardens was used and seen, creating greater scope for diversity.


Artist in Residence @ The Geelong Botanic Gardens

Tania Virgona’s position as Artist in Residence at the Geelong Botanic Gardens has offered an opportunity to view this historic place in new and remarkable ways.   The science of botany together with the practice of horticulture have been the principle concerns directing activity at the GBG throughout its150 year history.  Visitors anticipate an experience informed by the age of the garden, their knowledge of plant collections and seasonal change.   The works presented in this exhibition reflect an alternative view of the gardens and the materials contained within.   Of particular importance are the recording of earthworks and organic insertions that challenge the notion of the garden bed and plant arrangement normally associated with the nurture of abotanic garden.

Tania’s introduction to the GBG was brought about through her involvement in the locally inspired Walk West project.   During her time spent sculpting timber in the works depot at the GBG Tania recognised an opportunity to explore the gardens and with this a chance to transform its varying qualities into art form.   The design process and development of the installations commenced in September 2003 and became a public event that included community participation and weekend workshops.

The exploration of place and space and the evolvement of the works within an important public garden invited a verbal and visual dialogue with gardens Staff, Friends and Visitors to the GBG.   The impact of the works in progress was extremely varied.   Statements expressed as excitement at the temporary change to these ‘still’ spaces contrasted with alarm at the incisions cut into normally pristine lawns.   Tania observed that the weekend visitor was often more able to grasp the concepts being explored than those involved in the gardens on a daily basis.   This may be explained by the strong emotional attachment that inhabits those working with gardens.   The disturbance of lawn areas and the digging and mounding of earth for non horticultural purposes was at odds with the regular activity of garden making.

The concept of manipulating the landscape for the purpose of expression is not a new phenomenon.   Earthworks dating to previous centuries that are expressed as scrapings, mounding and excavation were primarily made for cultural and religious purposes.   These works continue to engage and fascinate the viewer and are recognised as places that intensify the connection of the human intellect with the landscape.   They are the mark of human ideas measured though time.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the environmental art movement gained momentum.   These works paralleled political and social unrest though the western world and mirrored a questioning of accepted values.   Environmental works created by Michael Heizer and others since this period have challenged the notion of art as a collectable item.   Works created on a monumental scale were directed at the viewer with the intention of magnifying the landscape experience.   The ‘owners’ of these works were those who undertook site visits to remote locations to engage with the installations.   This was a radical move away from studio based art and forged a new direction in interpreting environment.   In this current era environmental art moves in and out of gallery spaces.   This exhibition is a melding of the two forms with landscape material as the palette and the record of events as the story of experience.

The principle purpose for Tania’s residency in the gardens was for “Professional Development”, funded through Arts Victoria and supported through the City of Greater Geelong.   The activity of investigation normally cloistered in the artist’s studio became a public event and the dynamic thought process, where doubt and questioning result in design resolution, were viewed by all.   When viewing images presented in this exhibition we need to consider the artist experience of incorporating a private practice within a public realm.   Visitors witnessed the thought process and experienced the journey of nature becoming art and art becoming nature. This made the art subject to considerable question, which intensified and broadened the collaboration beyond the garden.

The traditional view of the Artist in Residence at a Botanic Garden equates with the botanical exercise, the recording of plant material to precise measurement and in exact detail accompanied by scientific language that clearly categorises the specimen studied.   The Virgona residency has challenged this notion.   From its beginning it has questioned our preconceived ideas of the historic space and by utilising the ground surface and plant material as artistic palette has forced a new view of the continued capacity of these gardens to inspire the visitor.

The challenge of cutting into the ground for purposes other than horticulture was perhaps made easier by the recent implementation of the 21 st Century Garden, however this event was specifically for horticultural and botanical purposes.   Tania’s installations have disturbed historic spaces and opened the ground for viewing as an aesthetic experience.   The works have explored the silent heart of the gardens transforming the earth and its
grassy surface into art.   The exploration of strength and stillness on and below the ground surface raises questions about the usually unexplored static values within gardens.   Do these factors unknowingly emanate upward into place intensifying the sense that is  associated with being in a garden?

The GBG are Australia’s fourth oldest public garden and form an important historic  reference in the City of Geelong.   The importance of the gardens is reflected in the depth  of the plant collection, the age of individual specimens and the dynamic design and  plantings contained within the new 21 st Century Garden extension.   The unique opportunity offered to the City of Greater Geelong to host an Artist in Residence to investigate the unexplored medium of ground plane, earth form and plant material has opened the minds of those usually visiting the gardens.

Works on paper and digital images contained within this exhibition are a visual expression of subliminal feelings not often articulated about gardens spaces.   The works successfully investigate and challenge our preconceived ideas of the values contained within historic gardens and help us redefine the spacial statements and unique qualities that make the Geelong Botanic Gardens a special place to visit.

Helena Buxton
Landscape Architect

Further reading

‘Designing The Earth -The Human Impulse to Shape Nature’, David Bourbon

‘Earthworks and Beyond’, John Beardsley

‘Michael Heizer, EFFICY TUMULI’, Douglas C. McGill

‘Silent Spaces’, Chris Drury

“When you make a sculpture by digging out dirt, you’re negating all of these materialist concepts.   You change the definition of material and material usage, and you redefine what an object is”…Michael Heizer   EFFICY TUMULI

Geelong Bot Gardens Logo Arts Vic Geelong Council Geelong Gallery Logo 2


The Terra Firma exhibtion asked us to respond to the natural landscape and the built environment. With this piece I wanted to treat the land we stand on as an entity and if it could speak, what it would say?

The Voice, Terra Firma Melbourne Fringe
City of Boorandarra
Slate and earth
3m diameter


“I feel it is our greatest need to heal the dichotomy between the natural and built environment, and I aim to initiate this bridge with my work”


Stony Creek Reserve is located within a highly industrial precinct of Port Melbourne. The land is contaminated by industrial waste products and as part of an open day, 10 Artist were invited to created artworks that made comment on this land, its history and location. This activated awareness where people interacted with the site. This installation is about nurturing and healing. By creating a space to BE in or go to, to heal our humanity, we can inevitably have greater awareness of our intensions and actions. I wanted to use materials that would also physically help replenish and revegetate the site. By using hay as my medium the Friends of Stoney Creek group could use it as mulch once the exhibition had concluded.

Hay, leaves & wire

2m x 2m


Thank you to Mike and Beth Palmer for letting me have the opportunity to make this artwork on their property in Meredith.

Timber and native grasses

2m x 2m