In conversation: Kate Rohde


Image: Kate Rohde’s bright and bold sculptures reinterpret traditional conceptions of museum diorama displays. 

Works by artist Kate Rohde featured in the exhibition Strange Nature were inspired by wunderkammer dioramas that sought to present ‘perfect’ moments in time. 

“The works that I've got in Strange Nature, most of them are actually older works of mine — anywhere from 10 to 14, 15 years old,” said Rohde. “In this particular period, I was very interested in the wunderkammer, the ‘cabinet of curiosities’.  

“They were the precursor to the modern museum and methods of collecting. In the wunderkammer, things were collected and displayed in a more aesthetic arrangement, rather than a scientifically correct way. Growing up, I loved the Melbourne Museum; the old Melbourne Museum was a very wunderkammer, cabinet of curiosities-style of Victorian museum.  

“And I liked dioramas — they present what I think of as a bit of a ‘perfect moment’. If you went out seeking nature on your own, you might just go out and see nothing — the great event won't occur. Whereas, you go to the museum, and it’s a tradeoff. It's not real, but you get to see and imagine that dramatic moment — where the lion pounces on the gazelle, or something. 

“So, I drew on a lot of those wunderkammer traditions, composing my own little fantasy dioramas and scenes, because I loved it.” 

Rohde observed how her desire to capture the ‘perfect moment’ is well-represented in the Strange Nature exhibition. 

Rhinestone Chipmunk was inspired by motifs that happen in taxidermy quite often,” Rohde noted. “One of the big recurring scenes seen across the world is the cobra and mongoose. In fact, there’s one here at QVMAG in the basement storage.  

“My piece echoes that dramatic diorama moment, where the little rodent is being threatened by the potentially dangerous snake. But, maybe, the chipmunk is like the mongoose... So, it actually shows a more evenly matched battle.  

“It’s a bit of a weird, kitschy reinterpretation of that taxidermy classic.“ 


Image: Kate Rohde’s Rosella Vitrine (2009) combines an artefact from QVMAG’s collection with an intricate hand modelled sculpture. 

For one of her pieces in Strange Nature, Rohde was given the unique privilege to combine one of QVMAG’s collection pieces with her own artwork in a piece entitled Rosella Vitrine.  

She recalled, “Troy Emery and I came to visit QVMAG and [Curator] Ashley Bird said, ‘Look, you might be able to include some of the Natural History specimens from the Museum’ — old teaching models, not anything too precious. And this was the most colourful bird that was available to me, the rosella. 

“Where possible, I always like to try and present the artworks in a way that it's a complete unit. Rather than just having them on a long plinth or a white cube situation. I like to make exhibition displays and furniture, customised for the artworks. Then, it all becomes one combined unit. 

“I already had a shelf piece kind of made up. So, I did a new little base, just over the last couple of months, to put the bird in. I've used a slightly different technique — I hand-modelled it all, and then spray painted with an airbrush.  

“It's got a bit more of a gothic, kind of ‘dark forest’ feeling to it. The colour in the base is like the iridescent plumage of the feathers of the parrots. I was going to go a bit more ‘rainbow’ with it, but — and this is what sort of happens when you're making things, sometimes — I got this new alcohol ink. This is actually the colour it comes out as, a sort of two-tone opal, and it looks so cool. I was going to do dark red and dark green pops – but I just loved that blue-purple. I was like, ‘That's it.’” 


Image: Kate Rohde with fellow artist Troy Emery at the Strange Nature exhibition opening at QVMAG. 

Rohde spoke of her thoughts on revisiting some of these pieces, given the length of time since they were developed.  

“It’s kind of interesting,” she said. “When I made these, it was the early days of mould-making and casting. They're quite rustic, compared to how I would go through that process now. And there's a part of me that, a few times, I've been tempted to go back and make adjustments to them.  

“But then, it's also nice to have something that is a testament to where you were at a particular time. Even though there are little things that I could fix, it's not really affecting the artwork negatively. And to me, it's like: look, that's where you were at that moment.  

“This artwork is a moment in time. I can reflect back on where I was then — and how far I've come.” 

Strange Nature is at the Queen Victoria Art Gallery at Royal Park until 14 April 2024.