Posts Tagged ‘Australian installation art photography

09
Feb
18

Review: ‘Rosemary Laing’ at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 2nd December 2017 – 11th February 2018

Curator: Victoria Lynn

 

Rosemary Laing. 'weather (Eden) #1' 2006

 

Rosemary Laing
weather (Eden) #1
2006
From the series weather
C Type photograph
110 x 221.5 cm
Private Collection
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Disjunction and displacement in the Australian landscape

On a suitably apocalyptic day – in terms of our relationship to landscape, environment, elements and shelter – I drove up the Yarra Valley to the beautiful TarraWarra Museum of Art to see an exhibition of the works of Rosemary Laing. Through teeming rain, headlights gleaming, windshield wipers at full bore listening to Beethoven symphonies, I undertook an epic drive up to that most beautiful part of Victoria. The slightly surreal, disembodied experience of the drive continued once I stepped inside the gallery to view Laing’s work.

Laing’s work has always been a favourite, whether it be the floating brides, the carpet laid through the forest, or the melting newsprint after rain. I have always thought of her sensitive conceptual, performative work as evidenced through large, panoramic photographs as strong and focused, effective in challenging contemporary cultural cliché relating to the land, specifically the possession and inhabitation of it. As such, perhaps I was expecting too much of this exhibition but to put it bluntly, the presentation was a great disappointment.

There are various contributing factors that do not make this exhibition a good one.

Firstly, as the curator Victoria Lynn observes, “Laing’s photographs are conceived in series, so that each photograph is part of a larger cluster of images that are often arrange in specific sequences.” This exhibition, “includes 28 large-scale works selected from ten series over a thirty-year period” that focus on the themes of land and landscape in Laing’s oeuvre. The problem with this approach to Laing’s work is that the photographs from the different series sit uncomfortably together. The transitions between the photographs and different bodies of work as evidenced in this exhibition, simply do not work. Minor White’s ice/fire – that frisson of intensity between two disparate images that makes both images relevant to each other – is non-existent here. What might have more successful in displaying Laing’s work would have been a larger selection from a more limited number of series. It would have given the viewer a more holistic sense of belonging and investment in the work. This is the problem working in series and specific sequences… once the work leaves that cluster of energy, that magical place of nurture, nature and conceptualisation, how does it reintegrate itself into other states of being and display?

Secondly, the light levels in the gallery were so low the photographs seemed drained of all their energy. I understand that the “lux levels are quite particular according to museum requirements considering many works are lent from various institutions around Australia,” having done a conservation subject during my Master of Art Curatorship, but this is where the surreal experience from the drive continued: upon entering the gallery it was like navigating a stygian gloom, as can be seen in the installation photographs of the exhibition below. This is a museum of art situated in the most beautiful landscape and these are photographs, captured with light! that need light to bring them alive. I remember seeing Laing’s work leak at Tolarno galleries in Melbourne, and being amazed by their presence, their energy. Not here. Here the blues of the sky and the reds of the carpet seemed drained of energy, the vibrations of being of the forest and land victim to overzealous preservation.

Thirdly, and this relates to the first point, there was one work How we lost poor Flossie (fires) (1988, below) from Laing’s early series Natural Disasters. The work appeared out of nowhere at the end of the exhibition, had nothing that it related to around it, and had no explanation as to why it was there. I really would have liked to have known more about how Laing got from this work to the later series in the exhibition. What was her process of discovery, of change and experimentation. How did Laing go from Flossie – slicing together the spectacle and graphic imagery from media coverage of the Ash Wednesday fires – to the embeddedness [definition: the dependence of a phenomenon on its environment, which may be defined alternatively in institutional, social, cognitive, or cultural terms] of performances within the landscape of the later work? This would have been a more cogent, pungent and relevant investigation into the rigours of Laing’s art practice.

I emerged into the world and it was still pouring with rain. I rejoiced. It was as though I was alive again. Laing’s work is always strong and interesting. It was just such a pity that this iteration of it, specifically its closeted choreography, was not as restless as the landscape the works imagine.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the TarraWarra Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photograph for a larger version of the image. All installation images © Dr Marcus Bunyan and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring the works welcome to Australia (2004, C Type photograph, Collection of the University of Queensland) from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

 

“… the detention centre images, so that you’ve got the Heysen, you know, trees that you want to belong to, and then you’ve got this endless vista – though it be a difficult journey across a horizon that never ends – and then you have the raised wire fence, completely closing off access to that land, and that place, and those images of belonging and heritage.”

Art Talk with Rosemary Laing

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring the works after Heysen (2004) at left, and to walk on a sea of salt (2004) at right, from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view Rosemary Laing’s after Heysen (2004, C Type photograph, Collection of Carey Lyon and Jo Crosby) from the series to walk on a sea of salt

 

 

The question of how to belong in Australia permeates Laing’s work. Australia has one of the highest immigrant populations in the world so that the question of arrival, and of making oneself at home, continues to be part of the everyday reality. We also have one of the world’s harshest policies for asylum seekers so that – in the political imaginary of contemporary Australia – land is conceived as a border that has to be protected.

The artist’s most potent response to the contested issue of being at home in Australia is the 2004 series to walk on a sea of salt, where images of Woomera detention ventre, combined with photographs inspired by quintessential Australian imagery and stories, remind us that home does not travel with the asylum seeker. In after Heysen, Laing photographs the trees that Hans Heysen transformed into an Arcadian image of the Australian bush, but bleaches the image to invoke a sense of nationalistic nostalgia. By contrast, the spatial potential and magnitude of the Australian landscape is invoked by the image to walk on a sea of salt. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art featuring works from the series The Paper (2013)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work The Paper, Tuesday (2013, C Type photograph, Monash University Collection) from the series The Paper (2013)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work The Paper, Thursday (2013, C Type photograph, Monash University Collection) from the series The Paper (2013)

 

 

Laing choreographs situations in the landscape, invoking a unique set of circumstances that reflect upon historic, social, environmental, economic and material conditions. Incongruous items are carefully positioned to flow with the compositional logic of a place.

On a hillside in Bundanon, New South Wales is a Casuarina forest sprinkled with Burrawang (cycads), an ancient plant that dates back to the Palaeozoic. The series The Paper was created on this hillside. The forest floor is covered in newspaper and photographed after the rains. The paper has literally been pressed into the forest floor by the torrent. It has been weathered. The sensationalism, headlines, imagery and opinion of the newspaper merge into a feathery ground cover of soft white, cream and beige hues. It is as if the area has flooded, not with water, but with paper. Words, colour and dates are dissolved into a tonal carpet. There is no light and shadow. This misalignment suggests the death of the daily paper, and here it inevitably returns to its natural habitat, its original ‘home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation views of the exhibition Rosemary Laing at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work weather (Eden) #1 (2006, C Type photograph, Collection of Peter and Anna Thomas) from the series weather

 

 

The idea of a natural disaster in the Australian landscape occupies the same intensity for Laing as the human or ‘unnatural’ disasters. The each speak of the endless transformation of the landscape, its unfolding stories and its capacity to conjure anxiety and fear.

the series weather, located on the south coast of New South Wales, was inspired by the impact of natural phenomena – coastal storms – on the area. The flash of red fish netting snagged unawares by the battered grey melaleucas in weather (Eden) #1 also signals the historic Indigenous and colonial whaling in the area and the more recent slow demise of the fishing industry. These images seem haunted. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s works The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (2017) left, from the series Buddens, and at right weather (Eden) #2 from the series weather

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work The Flowering of the Strange Orchid (2017)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work still life with teapot and daisies (2017, archival pigment print, Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne) from the series Buddens

 

 

In the most recent series Buddens, Laing turns again to the ‘unnatural disasters’ that impact ‘country’. The stream is covered in rolls of discarded clothing. It leads down to Wreck Bay, on the south coast of New South Wales, and is the site of multiple ship disasters. Historically these waters were used to transport convicts, goods, troops and settlers up and down the coast and they are littered with relics from shipwrecks including those of the vessels ‘Rose of Australia’ and ‘Walter Hood’.

The roof truss is like a piece of wreckage in amongst the trees, as if torn by the winds from an urban development on the outskirts of a city. Recalling the upside down house in the series leak (2010), it meets a natural A-frame in the foliage, yet the two don’t make a safe house.

The clothes seem to push through the landscape, like the rush of a river, perhaps in search of a safe haven. There is a mixture of metaphors in Buddens, highlighting the delicate balance between nature and culture required for survival.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work brumby mound #5 (2003, C Type photograph, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work brumby mound #6 (2003, C Type photograph, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

 

Landscape has a past, present an future; it is never the same as it used to be. In the face of wars, wrecks, and both natural and ‘unnatural’ destruction, we build shelters. We fence and furnish these landscape as we try to impose order on the precariousness and relative insignificance of life.  As can be seen in a number of Laing’s series, the introduction of elements from our ‘settled’ environment including carpet, clothing , architectural structures, newspapers and the like – creates a disjunction. Some thing is literally awry.

In the one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape series, red interior furniture occupies and unsuccessfully domesticates this landscape. Painted in red earth and glue, these items almost disappear in the desert landscape. they are both like relics of a lost civilisation, but also seem to have become attuned to the terrain.

In the series leak, Laing continues her poetic and political engagement with the Australian landscape whereby powerful and dynamic tensions are elicited through the construction and insertion of foreign objects in the natural environment. Although the land depicted has already been altered through years of cleating and grazing practices, these works metaphorically signal that the continued ‘leak’ of residential development into both remnant bushland and farmland owned by generations of families is an unwelcome accident or breach that threatens to overturn the ecological balance between nature and culture. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work Aristide (2010, C Type photograph, Collection of the University of Queensland) from the series leak

 

 

“Landscape changes; its restless. It moves with the wind and rhymes with the seasons. It burns and floods. It is spatial, offering the visitor several perspectives that can be contradictory, paradoxical and durational. Landscape is also a ‘situation’, a complex interplay of historical and environmental conditions. Landscape has a past, present and future; it is never the same as it used to be. When we gaze out over a bay, or ponder and Indigenous site, we can’t help but wonder what it used to look like, how it used to be occupied, what tragedies and serendipities happened there. Landscape can be both a place of belonging and a destination, and depending on one’s perspective, it can embody the familiarity of home and the promise of adventure; the discomfort of displacement or the tragedy of invasion. Landscape is formed as much by natural forces as it is by human knowledge. …

Rosemary Laing introduces us to these histories by creating projects in the Australian landscape. These projects are sustained by her continuing search for understanding the multiple attitudes to belonging in the landscape. Miwon Kwon has argued that today ‘feeling out of place is the cultural symptom of late capitalism’s political and social reality’, so much so, that to be ‘situated’ is to be ‘displaced’. In Australia, the notion of displacement has a history that goes back to colonisation. Questions of who owns the land, how we inhabit it, and who feels displaced, are an intrinsic part of the Australian consciousness. Laing’s work also asks how we encounter the landscape; who or what is out of  place; who or what does not belong; are ‘we’ the alien? …

Laing choreographs situations in the landscape, invoking a unique set of circumstances that reflect upon historic, social, environmental and material conditions…

Doherty argues that rather than being site specific, art has shifted from a fixed location, to one that, in the words of Kwon, is ‘constituted through social, economic, cultural and economic processes’. Such artworks are not located in a single place, but rather take the form of interactive activities, collective actions, and spatial experiences. They are constitutive rather than absolute; propositional rather than conclusive. Rosemary Laing’s mise-en-scènes are not public, events or performances, but they forge a compositional dialogue with the natural environment that provokes a social, economic and environmental conscience.

Laing’s photographs are conceived in series, so that each photograph is part of a larger cluster of images that are often arrange in specific sequences. Moreover, the spatial tableaux and the photographic outcome have an intrinsic connection. The installations cannot be seen without the photographic apparatus and yet each mise-en-scène is presented from a variety of perspectives and angles, so that we cannot necessarily rely on the photographic outcome to be ‘truthful’. The photograph is not simply documentation. It is an activator. In many respects Laing places us in the landscape, so that we fell part of the image. She does this through both the size and relative height of the image, along with the point of view and our relation with the horizon line. Laing tests the limits of the photograph, and also provokes the viewer to rearticulate their connection to landscape, and re-energise it. She comes to be the interlocutor between the histories and meanings embedded in landscape, the installation, the photograph and the viewer.”

Victoria Lynn. “Rosemary Laing – Co-belonging with the Landscape,” in Rosemary Laing exhibition catalogue, TarraWarra Art Museum, 2017, pp. 7-9.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work effort and rush #9 (swanfires) (2013-15, C Type photograph, Collection of Alex Cleary) from the series effort and rush

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work effort and rush #9 (swanfires) (2013-15)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work burning Ayer #12 (2003, C Type photograph, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape

 

 

The fire in burning Ayer #12 gives us some clues to the relationship between fire and the artist’s quest to reimagine belonging in the Australian landscape. The earth-encrusted items of mass-produced domestic wooden furniture – a reference, once more, to the idea of ‘housing’, home and belonging. Their ashes fold back into the earth. The strength of the red desert plain holds its ground, as it were, as the stage for this enactment of both sacrifice and return. Fire comes to be a metaphor for the ways in which the Indigenous landscape refuses our presence and escapes from our control.

In effort and rush #9 (swanfires), the blur of movement across tall thin tree trunks, captured in a smoky black hue, considers both the rush of the fire, and the rush of escape. It is as if the camera has become a paintbrush. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, Chris’s shed (2002-04, C Type photograph, Monash Gallery of Art) from the series swanfires

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Detail of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, Chris’s shed (2002-04)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work How we lost poor Flossie (fires) (1988, Gelatin silver photograph, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide) from the series Natural Disasters

 

 

When Laing first tackled disasters in her 1988 Natural Disasters series, it was from the point of view of the media phenomenon. Slicing together imagery from media coverage of the Ash Wednesday fires, the series, including works such as How we lost poor Flossie (fires) was more to do with the slipstream of spectacle in the wake of the bicentennial of Australia. At the time, competing propositions about our cultural identity jostled for attention: 200 years of settlement, Aboriginal calls for recognition, the tourist panorama, and the sensationalism of fire in the landscape.

After every significant fire near her house in Swanhaven, on the south cost of New South Wales, Laing takes photographs in the aftermath of the blaze, like a marker of the irreconcilable yet continuing presence of natural and unnatural disasters.

In the series swanfires there is an overwhelming sense of loss. These two images speak of the abject disaster of fire, before the clean up.  They depict situations that exceed our comprehension. In swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services, the intersecting forms of corrugated iron – the quintessential material of rural Australia – are unexpectedly bathed in the softest of pink, their forms reflecting the tree line behind. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Rosemary Laing' at the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Installation view of Rosemary Laing’s work swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services (2002-04, C Type photograph,Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne) from the series swanfires

 

 

TarraWarra Museum of Art will stage an exhibition of the works of Rosemary Laing, one of Australia’s most significant and internationally-renowned photo-based artists, 2 December 2017 – 11 February 2018.

Focusing on the theme of land and landscape in Laing’s oeuvre, the Rosemary Laing exhibition includes 28 large scale works selected from 10 series over a thirty-year period. The exhibition, which is the first large-scale showing of Laing’s work in Victoria, will be accompanied by an exhibition of works by Fred Williams focusing on a single year of the artist’s oeuvre, Fred Williams – 1974. Curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick, the Williams exhibition reveals the ways in which colour and human intervention in the landscape became a focus for the artist.

Born in Brisbane and based in Sydney, Laing has worked with the photographic medium since the mid-1980s. Her projects have engaged with culturally and historically resonant sites in the Australian landscape, as well as choreographed performances. TarraWarra director, Victoria Lynn, curator of the exhibition, says Laing’s work is highly representative of the Museum’s central interest in the exchange between art, place and ideas.

“This exhibition reveals Laing’s compositional and technical ingenuity. It shows that Laing can create images of dazzling luminosity as well as solemnly subdued light. Flickers of bright red catch our eye, while passages of verdant greens create an all-over intensity. Her images take us to open and infinite plains as well as the depths of entangled forest trails.

“The artist builds structures and installations in coastal, farming, forest and desert landscapes from which she then creates photographic images. Whether it is papering the floor of a forest in the 2013 series The Paper, or creating a river of clothes displacing the water of a flowing creek in the new series Buddens 2017, Laing’s images reflect upon the historical and contemporary stories of human engagement with our continent. More specifically, the artist draws on colonisation and the impact of waves of asylum seekers, suggesting that the landscape is forever transformed both physically and metaphorically. The exhibition also includes works depicting the aftermath of fire, and the ways it too transforms what we thought we knew of the landscape,” Ms Lynn said.

Rosemary Laing comments: “The arrival of people, throughout history, shifts what happens in land, challenging those who have left their elsewhere, and disrupting the continuum of their destination-place. A disruption causes a reconfiguration. It elaborates both the beforehand and the afterward. The works are somewhere between – a narrative for the movement of people, the condition of landforms with a changing peopled condition, expectations of home and haven, flow and flooding, and the effect and affect of these passages.” The exhibition is supported by major exhibition partner the Balnaves Foundation, and will be accompanied by a catalogue authored by Judy Annear, funded by the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Annear, writes: “How to make sense of what humanity does in and to their environment regardless of whether that environment appears to be natural or made? What is the spectrum, the temperature of that activity? Laing is an artist who grapples with these questions and how to reflect and interpret the times in which she lives.”

Neil Balnaves AO, Founder The Balnaves Foundation said, “The exhibitions Rosemary Laing and Fred Williams – 1974 will be the third year that The Balnaves Foundation have supported the TarraWarra Museum of Art to deliver exhibitions of note by Australian artists. The Foundation is proud to partner in these major endeavours, providing vital opportunities for important Australian artists to be showcased, whilst providing art lovers – including inner-regional audiences – access to outstanding arts experiences.”

Laing has exhibited in Australia and abroad since the late 1980s. She has participated in various international biennials, including the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Venice Biennale (2007), Busan Biennale (2004), and Istanbul Biennial (1995). Her work is present in museums Australia-wide and international museums including: the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, USA; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan; Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

Laing has presented solo exhibitions at several museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Kunsthallen Brandts Klædefabrik, Odense; Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville; and National Museum of Art, Osaka. A monograph, written by Abigail Solomon-Godeau has been published by Prestel, New York (2012).

Press release from the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Rosemary Laing. 'brumby mound #6' 2003

 

Rosemary Laing
brumby mound #6
2003
From the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape
C Type photograph
109.9 x 225 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds from the Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2004
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'swanfires, John and Kathy's auto services' 2002-04

 

Rosemary Laing
swanfires, John and Kathy’s auto services
2002-04
From the series swanfires
C Type photograph
85 x 151 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Tuesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Tuesday
2013
From the series The Paper
C Type photograph
90 x 189 cm
Monash University Collection
Purchased by the Faculty of Science, 2015
Courtesy of Monash University Museum of Art
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Aristide' 2010

 

Rosemary Laing
Aristide
2010
From the series leak
C Type photograph
110 x 223 cm
The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane
Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2011
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Walter Hood' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
Walter Hood
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 200.6 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Flowering of the Strange Orchid' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
The Flowering of the Strange Orchid
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 200 cm
Ten Cubed Collection, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Drapery and wattle' 2017

 

Rosemary Laing
Drapery and wattle
2017
From the series Buddens
Archival pigment print
100 x 152.6 cm
Collection of Sally Dan-Cuthbert Art Consultant
© Rosemary Laing, Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

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20
May
10

Review: ‘A Shrine for Orpheus’ by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th May  – 5th June 2010

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

Bees, books, bones… and biding (one’s) time, attaining the receptive state of being needed to contemplate this work.
This is a strong, beautiful installation by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs that rewards such a process.

What is memorable about the work is the physicality, the textures: the sound of the bees; the Beuy-esque yellowness and presence of the beeswax blocks; the liquidness of the honey in the bowl atop the beehives; the incinerated bones, books and personal photographs; the tain-less mirrors, the books dipped in beeswax; the votive offering of poems placed into the beehive re-inscribed by the bees themselves – and above all the luscious, warm smell of beeswax that fills the gallery (echoing Beuys concept of warmth, to extend beyond the material to encompass what he described as ‘spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution’).

This alchemical installation asks the viewer to free themselves from themselves – “the moment in which he frees himself of himself and… gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…” as Maurice Blanchot put its – a process Carl Jung called individuation, a synthesis of the Self which consists of the union of the unconscious with the conscious. Jung saw alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis in which the alchemist tried to turn lead into gold, a metaphor for the dissolving of the Self into the prima materia and the emergence of a new Self at the end of the process, changing the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. Here the process is the same. We are invited to let go the eidetic memory of shape and form in order to approach the sacred not through ritual but through the reformation of Self.

As Pip Stokes last few paragraphs of her artist statement succinctly observes,

“Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.”

The space in which we stand falls away: the mirror may hold a trace but it is only ever a trace. Our visions elude the senses, slipping between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. As Orpheus turns back to look so Eurydice dissolves, “falling out of the skin into the soul.” We, the viewer, are changed.

 

So far so good.

Unfortunately what does not facilitate this engagement with change is the combined verbiage of both the artist’s statement and the catalogue essay by Lisa Jacobson. These texts, especially the latter one, with quotations by Blanchot, Rilke, Calasso, Beuys, Cocteau, Neruda, Cobb, Virgil, Rilke again, Cocteau again, Poe and Derrida and meditations on mythos, the sacred, resurrection, mourning et al are mostly unnecessary to support what is strong work – in fact they seem to put a physical, textual wall between the viewer and the work, between the installation and the proposed dissolution of Self into the sacred. The catalogue essay is confusing and needed a judicious edit with the understanding that sometimes less is more! The work needs to speak for itself, not to be didactically spoken for and knowing when to merely suggest an idea is one of the skills of good writing. Perhaps all that was needed was the quotation by Blanchot and the two paragraphs above by Pip Stokes – nothing more.

Approaching the sacred is, I believe, and act of letting go, of aware-less-ness. As we immerse ourselves in that enigma we find that it is our fluid shadow aspect that has cast the light, with all attendant expectations, beliefs, dreams, visions, weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This exhibition asks us to reconcile the journey into darkness with the hope of redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are installation shots of the exhibition – please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs courtesy of the artist and fortyfivedownstairs taken by © Marcus Bunyan who is completing an internship at the gallery.

 

The Gaze of Orpheus

Maurice Blanchot

“The Greek myth says: one cannot create a work unless the enormous experience of the depths – an experience which the Greeks recognised as necessary to the work, an experience in which the work is put to the test by that enormousness- is not pursued for its own sake. The depth does not surrender itself face to face; it only reveals itself by concealing itself in the work. But the myth also shows that Orpheus’ destiny is not to submit to that law – and it is certainly true that by turning around to look at Eurydice, Orpheus ruins the work… and Eurydice returns to the shadows; under his gaze, the essence of the night reveals itself to be inessential. He thus betrays the work and Eurydice and the night. But if he did not turn around to look at Eurydice, he still would be betraying,… the boundless and imprudent force of his impulse, which does not demand Eurydice in her diurnal truth and her everyday charm, but in her nocturnal darkness, in her distance, her body closed, her face sealed, which wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the intimacy of a familiar life, but as the strangeness of that which excludes all intimacy; it does not want to make her live, but to have the fullness of her death living in her.”

“The sacred night encloses Eurydice, encloses within the song something which went beyond the song. But it is also enclosed itself: it is bound, it is the attendant, it is the sacred mastered by the power of ritual – that word which means order, rectitude, law, the way of Tao and the axis of Dharma. Orpheus gaze unties it, destroys its limits, breaks the law which contains, which retains the essence. Thus Orpheus’ gaze is … the moment in which he frees himself of himself and…, gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…”

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Pip Stokes

 

The first temple was made by the bees with feathers, wax and honey.

Calasso

 

… it is Orpheus. His metamorphosis
In this one and this. We should not trouble
about other names. Once and for all
It’s Orpheus when there’s singing.

Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus

 

We are the bees of the invisible
We frantically plunder the visible of its honey
To accumulate it in the great golden hive
Of the invisible

Rilke

 

In mythology, honey was regarded as a spiritual substance and the bees were godly… This belief was… influenced by the whole process of honey production as constituting a link between earthly and heavenly levels. The influx of a substance from the whole environment – plants, minerals, and sun – was the essence of the bee-cult… The whole builds a unity, … in a humane, warm way, through principles of cooperation and brotherhood.

Beuys

 

 

This installation, A Shrine for Orpheus, comprises four hundred hand cast beeswax blocks and a traditional beebox, in use by the bees until recently, accompanied by found objects such as old mirrors as well as ephemera collected from nature including feathers, bones and the salt mummified skeleton of a rabbit. Over the past year I have worked with the living beehive, placing votive offerings associated with poetry, death and renewal into the hive: objects such as books, cast wax pages, vessels, textiles and bones. Melbourne writer, Paul Carter has engraved wax tablets with aphoristic poems to the bees. These objects have been transformed through the bees’ processes of honeycomb- building.

The metaphors of the beehive in this connection to poetry, death and renewal are explored in the materials and structures of the installation. The warm sweet- smelling wax of the bees, cast into six sided blocks, provides the building material for the Shrine and two mausoleums, each with a void space, a space of underworld. The void of the larger mausoleum contains, ashy, burnt books, personal photos from family albums scorched by fire, evoking ‘shades’, the shadowy dead – and porcelain-like bones which have been materially transformed by cremation in a kiln. The second beeswax ‘grave’ has two voids, one of which contains a beeswax- bound and dipped facsimile of handwritten poems by Keats and, in the other opening, a book of insect morphology, also dipped and bound in beeswax.

The traditional beebox in the centre of the ruin of the Shrine is placed on a lake of mirrors. The mirrors have lost their tain and been translucently washed with plaster of Paris to further dim our view into the obscurely reflective world that lies beneath. The Shrine is accompanied by offerings of honey, honeycomb, beeswax bound books and pages cast from beeswax awaiting new poems, laid at its entrance.

Myths of death, dismemberment, transformation and resurrection have haunted the Western imagination from Isis to Dionysus, Orpheus and Christ. In his essay, The Gaze of Orpheus, the French literary theorist, Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

 

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.

The temple re admits this invisible.

 

Pip Stokes. May. 2010
A Shrine for Orpheus

Beeswax, beehive box, mirror. Mixed media, dimensions variable.
Original texts by Paul Carter, writer.
Sound by Kasimir Burgess, filmmaker.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Lisa Jacobson

If Orpheus is guardian of the sacred arts, then it is possible that never before has there been a century so much in need of his song. This is because the world insists, on a daily basis, that we lose ourselves rather than commune with loss, to be drawn to darkness as logos rather than seek out its mythos. The myth of Orpheus has an integral role today in that it returns us and brings us back into communion with the sacred through poetry, dance, music and art.

Pip Stokes’ most recent exhibition, A Shrine for Orpheus, provides a mythic language for the story of Orpheus. It is a contemplation of myth that reflects back on itself in an endless refraction of associations and images; a visual representation of the myth itself which is never simple or linear but, rather, layered with metaphor and re-imaginings. Stokes’ installation reveals the ways in which myth enters us, but does not belong to us. Rather, we are the conduit through which myth runs and Orpheus, indeed, does run and has run through the dreams of humankind for as long as we have been able to dream.

This is in keeping with the Neo-Platonic notion, in which Orpheus plays no small part, that the figures of myth occupy not only the rooms of the psyche, but the rooms of other houses outside of us. It is not the artist who invents these figures of the psyche, of Orpheus and Eurydice, of Persephone and Hades, but they who reinvent themselves. The zeitgeist or midrash (as the Jewish mystics call the spirit of the times) summons up those gods it needs most. In Stokes’ work, it is Orpheus who answers this call.

Orpheus, playing quietly on his lyre in the middle of the forest, coaxes the animals out to listen, as Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his first sonnet to Orpheus:

“…And where there had been
just a makeshift hut to receive the music,
a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind-
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.”

 

Summoning the animals translates, perhaps, into an ecological sensibility; to hear the call of Orpheus is to answer the ecological call, to re-sacralise nature. At a time when the world seems intent on hurtling towards its own demise, A Shrine for Orpheus inclines towards meditation and the transformation of nature, the stillness of catacombs, the quietness of wax, the purposeful industry of bees and silkworms, the potential for flight, the distillation of air, the reflective gaze, the emptying out of all colour until there are only shades of white: bleached bones, wax, ash, silk and paper, feathers in contemplation of flight as if, as the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.” Like the bees which flew in through the open window of Stokes’ studio to busy themselves on the beeswax, even the very act of art-making has summoned and sung up, in its own way, the problematic aspects of creation. As Jean Cocteau observes in his film, Orphée, “Look for a lifetime in mirrors and you will see Death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

The music of Orpheus, as Noel Cobb has said, is “the activity of the theologos, the one who spoke with and about the Gods.” His sanctuary also encompasses poetry and art. Orpheus’ lyre has to do with both dismemberment and re-membering, god-like attributes, as Stokes alludes to in her depiction of Orpheus’ wax heart awaiting resurrection. Orpheus’ lyre was said to be strung with human sinews, and the music he plays as he sings nature and animals into being dips, inevitably, into the underworld, into death and decay, dismemberment, a scattering of the psyche into fields not yet dreamt of, in the act of its resounding. The wax which forms the foundation of Stokes’ Shrine for Orpheus, the books on which bees have fed in order to make their own inscriptions (texts by writers from Keats to the contemporary Paul Carter) also hint at resurrection and immortality. At the centre of this ‘temple’ is the beehive, symbol of transformation.

As Virgil notes in The Georgics in a section entitled “The Peculiarly Wonderful Features of Bees”, bee stock is immortal in that the hive itself is passed on from generation to generation, the structure keeps on singing, and never really dies despite the passing of the bees who composed it. In a similar fashion, Orpheus’ own lyre is carried forth, made from the shell of a tortoise whose death made possible the music itself. The heart of Orpheus, like his own severed head in the myth, does not cease its previous musicality, the song of its rhythmic beating. So too might the artist reach down into the darkness of herself, even if she risks being torn apart, knowing that the heart remains intact and can be resurrected.

Rilke again:

Only the man who has also raised
his lyre among the darkling shades
may be allowed a sense
of infinite praise.

 

Inside the Orphic vision which Pip Stokes’ art immerses itself in, everything is panoramic and ornamented by mythic figures whom we cannot ever really know, but only glimpse via the language of metaphor: the hand that plunges through the earth while one is gathering flowers, the hem of a beekeeper’s shroud-like coat, the thin silken thread of a worm, the trace of words upon wax, or feathers, burnt books or ash. These are the images that translate the emotion of the myth but which remain, nevertheless, untranslatable because should they be hardened into the prosaic everyday language of the world, they would cease to be mythos.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that Eurydice cannot be brought back up to the shining world of which Rilke writes, in a different poem on Orpheus, and that Orpheus himself rises into at the very moment Hermes ushers Eurydice once again below. Eurydice is too far into death to be brought back to life. She has sunk into the “dream within the dream” in which, as Edgar Allan Poe writes, we are all participants. All Orpheus can take with him is the imprint of her, the illicit gaze, the melancholic pathology of the backward glance, that perhaps was not so much hastily stolen as executed too quickly. How long must the artist gaze into the underworld? Is it ever enough? Must she not continually turn back and gaze at what cannot be brought to the surface but that she must, even so, attempt to translate? Is it this that Rilke refers to when he writes in his sonnets, “it is in overstepping that [Orpheus] obeys?” Cocteau, speaking about his film, commented that “Poets, in order to live must often die, and shed not only the red blood of their hearts, but the white blood of their souls, that flows and leaves traces which can be followed.”

There is loss in this of course, great loss, that Stokes’ art both acknowledges and makes a place for. As Orpheus travels along “the path ascending steeply into life” towards “the shining exit-gates,” he cannot help but glance back. In the sonnets Rilke cautions, “Be ahead of all parting as though it already were / behind you.” This has echoes of Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, in which he argues that mourning begins the moment friendship begins; that we cannot enter into relationship without becoming conscious of the loss that will inevitably come with the other’s death. Indeed, the very idea of this loss precipitates the event itself, leaves us prematurely bereft and continually turning back towards the absent loved one in our grief. And if we are always turning back, is not the artist most required to do so, is not the artist most compelled to incline her head towards the darkness in order to write of what stirs beneath the shining surface of the world, of what calls to be heard? Is this not the invisible that Orpheus calls into being through poetry, music and art? Orpheus rises in Rilke’s poem, and in Pip Stokes’ work. In fact, if we dare to journey with him, he will rise in us all.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

fortyfivedownstairs
45, Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 11am – 5pm
Sat 11pm – 3pm

fortyfive downstairs website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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