In Hanna Hoyne's artistic world, we are all holy, and sometimes, we require a cosmic recharge.
And so, she has created a series of what she calls Plug-in Stations for Cosmic Recharge, a series of sculptures – heavenly machines – designed for interaction by anyone who might be passing by. Placed on a patches of gold-leafed floor, these works are huge and white, and irresistibly quirky and fantastical – a huge white trumpet with a snaking tube leading to a person-shaped alcove, or an oversized armchair that invites one to climb in, face-first, and cosy into its fitted stucco embrace. The idea, she says, is to meld with these machines, become part of their aura, and in the process, refresh your own psyche.
And why else, really, do we engage in art, if not to enrich ourselves, recharge our modes of thought, find new ways to experience the world? Sculpture by the Sea, the long-running outdoor public sculpture show in Sydney, is the logical next step for those seeking the good life – contemporary art, with a spectacular coastline up front, and one of the world's great modern cities humming in the background.
It would seem the most natural setting in the world for two of Hoyne's Cosmic Plug-Ins to be on display, ready to be sampled by the world.
Well, they will be ready - once Hoyne completes the process of weather-proofing the structures, reinforcing them with steel, thick marine fibreglass and, like all proper outdoor sculptures, auto-paint. It's brave new era for a sculptor whose works were, for a long time, largely ephemeral.
In fact, the wildly popular Sculpture by the Sea – now in its 20th year – will mark Hoyne's transition into a new phase of working, of bringing her work to the world. Now on the other side of 40, and with two small children, she's making works that speak directly to where she sees herself in the art world, and as a citizen of larger world with many parts.
Born in Germany, Hoyne had an unusual childhood. She describes her parents as "off-beat, bohemian hippy artists" and she grew up in two medieval cities on either side of the Rhine river – Mainz and Wiesbaden. Her Austrian mother was an art teacher specialising in Gothic church architecture, and her English father restored paintings, particularly Gothic altarpieces. She has vivid memories of playing hide and seek in churches and castles, of dancing alone in her socks in vast empty ballrooms with heavy, gold-handled doors. There were large paintings of Jesus and Mary, she with huge, vibrant robes looming off the canvas.
"To me, they were really sculptural, they were always coming out at me, but they were just painted flat," she says. The Baroque castle of Biebrich, outside Wiesbaden, felt like home to her, although in reality, the family lived in a high-rise flat.
In 1987, when Hoyne was 13, the family migrated to Australia, where her father had been accepted for a job conserving paintings at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
"Canberra was a total shock," she says. "When we arrived at the airport, there was only a sort of shed there, a disconcerting sort of lack of people and too much space for everything. No density of culture for my limited Euro-teen lens at the time."
It's an experience she has spent most of the intervening years unpicking, both as a European, and as the daughter of "Orientalist" parents, who found their fascination with Asia able to flourish in such close proximity.
But in the meantime, she negotiated the various paradoxes that made up life in 1980s Australia. Her parents sent her to a private school, where she was made to wear a uniform and sing the national anthem each day. Coming from post-Nazi Germany, this was confronting, to say the least.
"Aussie kids often greeted me by referring to Nazi Germany and I was completely bowled over by that," she says. "They were completely innocent and friendly, yet it made me angry because it was a kind of taboo subject in Germany and we worked really hard there to make amends for such terror…
"Though again, as time wore on I began to see the finer details of the British remnants, and how the Australian multi-coloured psyche had assimilated it, strangler-fig style."
Despite, or perhaps because of, her parents' love of Indian spiritual cultures, and the exotic nearness of Asia, she yearned to escape the "architectural shoebox homogeny" of Canberra, and applied for art schools. Ironically, it was the interview at the Australian National University School of Art that drew her in.
During those years, and many that came after, her work was largely ephemeral.
"The idea was I always wanted to facilitate an art experience for someone else - I wanted there to be something more than just a large piece of art," she says. "I wanted there to be a connection between the maker and the viewer, I suppose, and for there to be a special thing. So I made stacks and stacks of works. Shapes and stuff out of cheap paper, and then I would hand it to my friends, get them to have an experience, explore the thing and at the end of the performance it would be destroyed. That was the sort of hard-edged experimental stuff that I did at the beginning."
By the time she graduated in 1997, Australia felt like home. She had spent her third year on exchange at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, where she found herself "sort of interrogating my old home with a newly acquired lens - no longer fully belonging". She was suddenly aware of the overcrowded continent, the weight of culture, and felt a pull "away from the old conceited centres, to the possibility of unencumbered peripheries of Australia".
She was also, she says, reeling from the intensity of her European relatives' intense scepticism about her own parents' decision to start a new life so far away. It was "them seeing us afloat without the ties of the old habits and institutions; us building new heterodox cosmologies in unfettered relation to Asian spiritual cultures. They were very suspicious."
But as Hoyne negotiated her path as an art school graduate, she revelled in Australia's closeness to Asia, and spent the next decade living in Melbourne and travelling to Asia, including stints in Indian ashrams with her parents. While completing a masters' degree at RMIT in Melbourne, she spent three months in Seoul in South Korea, living with a host family, and travelled with her then partner, a Sri Lankan Tamil, to meet his family in Malaysia.
"In this decade I began to realise that my works started to speak of the aspirations entangled in my cross-cultural experiences," she says.
"I began to question these appropriations in the visual metaphors in my artworks. There was a shift inside me from the desire for the oriental exotic, to a more real, lived acculturation - to determine my subject position, to feel centred in the 'periphery'."
The body of work that came out of her exchange in Seoul was called Protectornauts (2001-2004), "a suite of paper protection suits for psyche and soul, to guard the wearer against the hazards of living – exposure to the extreme environments of our emotional landscape," she says. They were, in essence, re-imagined astronaut suits sewn from Korean paper.
She eventually moved back to Canberra to start a PhD at the ANU School of Art, the point at which she maintains she became a sculptor proper, creating small sculptural objects that melded her interested in emotions, the psyche, and various Asian spiritual practices. And then, finally, her Cosmic Recharge Plug-In Stations, originally conceived as a series of six, but with three completed and two to go on show at Bondi.
"[They] aspire to make room for contradictory affinities: the orientalist, the acolyte and the sceptic within," she says.
"Visually, these objects conjure aspects of my biography and the travels of childhood: shells found on the Australian shore, Asian sci-fi transport machines, Indian temple altars and Baroque church furniture."
In the six or more years since the work was initially conceived, she taught consistently, at the art school, at the NGA, at the University of Canberra and at Canberra Museum and Gallery, enjoying the experience but eventually feeling herself drained of creativity. By the time she decided to stop – she taught right up until she was eight months pregnant with her second child (now aged two) – she was yearning to make her own art again.
She has started her own label of children's clothing – Kinderhoonz, made of upcycled materials – and brought her Plug-In Stations out of storage from the ANCA studio she has just had to vacate.
"I would love people to get into them and test them. I hope that I can make them strong enough, that's the phase now," she says.
"That's the transition between ephemeral and propositional works, which I think I'll continue to make, but also I think I'm ready to make stuff that's more solid and in the public space, because I think partly those big works are ready for that."
When she decided to enter two of the works into Sculpture by the Sea, she had a good feeling, one that turned out to be entirely justified. Not only were they accepted, but she was also selected for a prize – the Helen Lempriere Scholarship, named for one of Australia's leading female artists of the mid-20th century.
It has been, Hoyne says, a welcome boost of funds into the task of weather-proofing her stations. But it's also an affirmation – that her voice is working, her works are speaking, that she is an artist worth talking about.
"Being able to adjudicate over a significant sum of money that is quarantined specifically to support your art practice is pretty rare for a practicing artist in Australia," she says.
"It is such a privilege to be acknowledged for this slightly unusual activity, that nonetheless is meant to enrich the lives of others."
And her activity – making sculptures - is more than slightly unusual, and one that she has decided, at the age of 42, to truly give herself over to. "Being a sculptor is not a life-choice about money-making; it is driven by other things," she says.
"It's a practice that wants to share the public space with visual, conceptual and material contributions to the social conversations that are happening. However flawed artists might be, their pervasive and ancient presence in our societies proves their bearing on the shape of our cultural records; our global memory."
And her works are likely to stick in the collective memory of many who plan to amble to track from Bondi to Tamarama to see the annual display of weird and wonderful outdoor creations. They are an invitation to do what she has been doing for her whole adult life – find a way to belong. But they also invite you to stop and soothe yourself in what could well be a long and complicated process – "to recover parts of the psyche that may be temporarily ailing. Being within them encourages reflection about being; about contemplation; and the possibilities and pitfalls of belonging".
Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi runs from October 20 to November 6.