Posts Tagged ‘Healesville

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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28
Jan
17

Review: ‘The sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver’ at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 19th November 2016 – 5th February 2017

Curator: Julie Ewington

 

 

Reading either side of the sign

Bronwyn Oliver and the invitation to imagine

 

John Berger once said, “The Renaissance artist imitated nature. The Mannerist and Classic artist reconstructed examples from nature in order to transcend nature. The Cubist realised that his awareness of nature was part of nature.”

And the postmodernist?

The postmodern artist regarded nature as a series of multiplicities that were impossibly complex to define, so were at once irrelevant but also beyond any new mythologizing. Nature was the green screen background used to mask (and transform) lives into any new series of narratives.

 

Thinking about the sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver in this magnificent retrospective of her work, I was struck by the classical beauty of form, attention to detail and delicacy of their construction. I noted their monochromatic palette and the self contained nature of all the works (with one word titles such as Wrap, Husk, Flare and Siren), as though they could not exist outside of themselves. And yet they do.

I thought long and hard about how Oliver’s biomorphic sculptures transcend time and space, how intractable metal becomes mutable object, metal into cosmos, nature. How they become a “form” (in energy terms) of transmitted, transmuted reality. And how you access that energy through their punctum, the shadows that they cast on the wall. And I had this feeling, of a lump in the throat, of a most visceral experience which made me have a tear in my eye for most of the time I was walking around the gallery.

For Oliver has created a new mythology through her imagination and in her nature through a series of multiplicities which is anything but irrelevant.

These objects from another time have an ancient feeling, slipping and slithering through the mud of evolution, nursing their young in enclosed spirals, or waiting for prey – open mouthed like pitcher plants – waiting for prey to drop into their interior. There is a darker side to these sculptures that is usually unacknowledged. Order and chaos, a formal, sculptural logic and poetic logic, always go hand in hand. In both dark light (ying yang), the complexity and simplicity of everything presented here vibrates and hums with energy. I imagine much like the artist herself.

When work is inspired like this, the sculptures seem to attain another temporal dimension. They take the viewer out of themselves and into another world. How does the artist make this happen?

Oliver makes this happen through reading either side of the sign. While there are obvious references to shell, heart, calligraphy, text, wrap, cloak, cell, flower, comet, spiral, sphere, ring and more in her work, she never didactically forces these signs on the viewer. She invites them to reimagine, to see the world and its land/marks in unfamiliar ways by shaping, twisting, and reinterpreting the sign. Individually and collectively, the nexus of the work (the series of connections linking two or more things) creates, “A presence, energy in my objects that a human being can respond to on the level of soul or spirit.”

This is the strength and beauty and energy of her work.

While the works look absolutely stunning in TarraWarra Museum of Art galleries, not everything is sunshine and light. Some of the shadows cast on the wall were unfocussed and lacked definition, inhibiting access to the appearance and disappearance of form and the multiplying physicality of the works. Stronger and more focused lighting was needed in these instances. Perhaps another curatorial opportunity was lost in not bringing together the numerous forms of sculpture such as Eddy 1993 and Swathe 1997 in one grouping within the gallery. On their own the forms became slightly repetitious; together, as Oliver notes of her circular works being in a series, “They each have the same format, but very different energies. Different lives.” I would have liked to have had the opportunity to compare and feel those different energies in a group, side by side. These are minor quibbles, however, as this is one of the most memorable exhibitions I have seen in years.

I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough: not to be missed!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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 images unless stated underneath © Dr Marcus Bunyan and TarraWarra Museum of Art.

 

 

“I am trying to create life. Not in the sense of beings, or animals, or plants, or machines, but ‘life’ in the sense of a kind of force. A presence, energy in my objects that a human being can respond to on the level of soul or spirit.”

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Bronwyn Oliver, 1991

 

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Mantle' 1985

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Mantle
1985
Paper, fibreglass, dye
45.7 × 101.6 × 45.7 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Siren' 1986

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Siren
1986
Paper, fibreglass, dye
71 × 91.5 × 76.2 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Home of a Curling Bird' 1988

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Home of a Curling Bird
1988
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Apostrophe' 1987

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Apostrophe
1987
Copper and lead
100 × 100 × 60cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Curlicue' (detail) 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Curlicue (detail)
1991
Copper wire
250 × 45 × 15cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Definition: A decorative curl or twist in calligraphy or in the design of an object.

 

Sonia Payes. 'Bronwyn Oliver' 2006

 

Sonia Payes
Bronwyn Oliver
2006
C-type photograph, edition of 10
127 x 127 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Ring II' 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Ring II
1994
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“I am quite please about the circular works being in a series. I have not worked through an idea like this before. I think they will look quite strong together. They each have the same format, but very different energies. Different lives.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Wrap' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Wrap
1997
Copper
45 × 35 × 12cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Husk' 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Husk
1994
Copper
Collection of Vivienne Sharpe
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Flare' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Flare
1997
Copper
50 × 50 × 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Iris' 1989

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Iris
1989
Copper
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Iris' 1989 (detail)

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Iris (detail)
1989
Copper
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery
1991
Copper, lead and wood
50 × 70 × 60 cm
Artbank collection, purchased 1991
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' 1991

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery
1991
Copper, lead and wood
50 × 70 × 60 cm
Artbank collection, purchased 1991
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Hatchery' (1991) with 'Heart' (1988) beyond

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Hatchery (1991) with Heart (1988) beyond
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (main gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Slip 1998, Anthozoa 2006, Unity 2001, Blossom 2004-05, Tress 1992
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Slip' 1998

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Slip
1998
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Clef' 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Clef
1993
Copper
110 × 45 × 40 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“The ideas relate to the effect of the shadow as a drawing, and the appearance and disappearance of form.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Clef' (detail) 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Clef (detail)
1993
Copper
110 × 45 × 40 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Anthozoa' (detail) 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Anthozoa (detail)
2006
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) was one of the most significant Australian sculptors of recent decades. This first comprehensive survey of 50 key works, from the mid-1980s to the final solo exhibition in 2006, includes early works made in paper, major sculptures from public collections, and maquettes for many of her much-loved public sculptures.

Emerging in the early 1980s when many artists were turning to installation, video and other ephemeral art forms, Oliver resolutely pursued making complex and substantial works in a variety of materials, eventually exclusively in metal. Studying in the UK and working in Europe, Oliver came to artistic maturity at the time of an international resurgence of sculpture; having attained a Masters degree at Chelsea School of Art in 1982-83, she witnessed the nascent years of the ‘New British Sculpture’.

This exhibition reveals Bronwyn Oliver’s lyrical sensibility and inventiveness. She developed an original, distinctive and enduring vocabulary that expressed her fascination with the inner life and language of form, and she tenaciously followed the beguiling demands of her chosen materials.

‘My work is about structure and order. It is a pursuit of a kind of logic: a formal, sculptural logic and poetic logic. It is a conceptual and physical process of building and taking away at the same time. I set out to strip the ideas and associations down to (physically and metaphorically) just the bones, exposing the life still held inside.’1

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Oliver brought poetic brevity and decision to her sculpture. Many works suggest aspects of the natural world and its metaphorical potential, and a number of the public works are located in gardens. Yet works such as Home of a Curling Bird and Eddy evoke associations with shelter or natural movement or, as with Curlicue,conjure human mark-making with studied panache. Oliver’s work encompasses what appear to be archetypal forms, like shells, spirals, circles, and spheres; their delicate shapes trace shadows that become spectral drawings on the gallery wall, multiplying the physicality of the works.

Between 1986 and her death in 2006, Oliver presented 18 solo exhibitions and from 1983 participated in numerous group exhibitions in Australia and in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Korea and China. At the same time, she undertook many commissions where she worked closely with clients and stakeholders, and for 19 years taught art to primary school students at Sydney’s Cranbrook School. Prodigiously hardworking, Oliver devised exquisite sculptures for the public domain, in locations as various as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hilton Hotel and Quay Restaurant in inner-city Sydney, and at the University of New South Wales, as well as in Brisbane, Adelaide and Orange in regional NSW. Her work is held in most major Australian public collections, and in numerous collections in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA.

As writer Hannah Fink memorably observed in 2006, ‘Bronwyn Oliver had that rarest of all skills: she knew how to create beauty.’ This exhibition is a tribute to that power.

Text from the TarraWarra Museum of Art website

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1. Bronwyn Oliver quoted in Hannah Fink, ‘Strange things: on Bronwyn Oliver’, in Burnt Ground, (ed. Ivor Indyk), Heat 4. New series, Newcastle: Giramondo Publishing Co, 2002, pp. 177-187.

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (main gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Eddy 1993, Shield 1995, Wand 1991, Blossom 2004-05, Lily 1995
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Eddy' (detail) 1993

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Eddy (detail)
1993
Copper
Art Gallery of South Australia
Gift of the Moët and Chandon Australian Art Foundation Fellow Collection 2000
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“‘…the act of fabrication’ [is essential] … A couple of pairs of pliers, a wire-cutter, hand-drill, rivet gun and a Stanley knife is my usual kit. That’s what I’ll be taking to France. I’m compulsive. I’ll start work within 24 hours.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 1994

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' (detail) 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe (detail)
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Swathe' (detail) 1997

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Swathe (detail)
1997
Copper
180 × 300 × 300 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sonia Payes. 'Bronwyn Oliver' 2006

 

Sonia Payes
Bronwyn Oliver
2006
Courtesy of the artist

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Shield' 1995

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Shield
1995
Copper
McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park collection
Purchased with funds from the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation, 1995
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“All in this series have a ‘ruched’ copper surface in common, and the idea of a swelling/breathing form beneath the surface. (Idea began with a (dreadful) sculpture seen in the Musée d’Orsay in 1990-91. Sculpture of a gladiator, in bronze, wearing ‘ruched’ leggings, with musculature taut beneath the surface of the cloth). Final work completed in Hautvillers studio.” ~ Bronwyn Oliver, 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lily' (detail) 1995

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lily (detail)
1995
Copper
Newcastle Art Gallery collection
Gift of Ann Lewis AO 2011
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (farther gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
L to R: Striation 2004, Grandiflora (Bud) 2005, Rose 2006, Grandiflora (Bloom) 2005
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Rose' 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Rose
2006
Copper
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Rose' (detail) 2006

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Rose (detail)
2006
Copper
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Umbra' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Umbra (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lock' 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lock
2002
Copper
125 x 125 x 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Lock' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Lock (detail)
2002
Copper
125 x 125 x 14 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

bronwyn-oliver-sakura-2006-web

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Sakura
2006
Copper
48 × 48 × 20 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Ammonite' 2005

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Ammonite
2005
Copper
95 × 90 × 90 cm
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“Oliver developed an original, distinctive and enduring vocabulary that expressed her fascination with the inner life and language of form and the strict but beguiling demands of her chosen materials.

Above all, she brought an almost poetic brevity and decision to her sculpture. Many works suggest aspects of the natural world and its metaphorical potential, and some of the most successful public works are located in gardens. Yet Oliver always tenaciously followed the logic of her material, making works such as Eyrie or Eddy that evoke associations with shelter or natural movement or, as with Curlicue, conjure human mark-making with deliberate panache.

TarraWarra Director, Victoria Lynn, described the exhibition as a testament to the short but poignant contribution made by Oliver to Australian sculpture – a vision that remains exceptional in the history of Australian contemporary art.

“Oliver’s unique and labour-intensive approach involved joining threads of copper wire to create what appear to be woven forms that allow light to pass through their surface and cast shadows on the walls and floors. Her works resonate with the force of archetypes, and their green and brown patinas suggest an enduring presence that remains as relevant now as when they were first created. Some appear to be rescued from an archaeological past, while others resemble the quintessential forms found in nature: spirals, spheres, rings and loops,” Ms Lynn said.

Oliver was renowned for sensitive and inventive sculptures placed in the public domain, and she worked closely with clients, stakeholders and architects in their installation. This exhibition will include maquettes of some of Oliver’s much-loved public works, accompanied by working documents and images. Exhibition curator Julie Ewington said the exhibition, located within the museum building in TarraWarra’s magnificent grounds, will be the perfect setting for appreciating Oliver’s work.

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)

Bronwyn Oliver was one of the outstanding Australian artists of her generation, and perhaps its leading sculptor. Originally working in cane and paper, by 1988 Oliver began working in metal, especially copper, and in the next two decades achieved a distinctive and enduring body of work. As writer Hannah Fink memorably observed in 2006, ‘Bronwyn Oliver had that rarest of all skills: she knew how to create beauty’.

Raised near Inverell in country New South Wales, in 1959, Bronwyn Oliver first studied sculpture in Sydney at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education from 1977-80. She said of her arrival at the College sculpture department, ‘I knew straight away I was in the right place’. After gaining the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship, Oliver completed a Masters’ degree in London at the Chelsea School of Arts in 1982-3. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, in 1988 Oliver was artist-in-residence in the French coastal city of Brest, where she studied Celtic metalworking; in 1994 she won the prestigious Moët & Chandon Award, which allowed her to spend a year living and working in France.

Oliver emerged in the 1980s at the same time as an international resurgence of contemporary sculpture. In response to the Conceptual and Minimal art of the prior decade, artists returned to the fabrication of sculptural form. Having attained a Masters of Sculpture at Chelsea School of Art in 1982-83, Oliver was witness to the nascent years of this celebration of form in British art, where it was known as ‘New British Sculpture’.

Between 1986, with her first solo show at Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, and her death in 2006, Oliver presented 19 solo exhibitions, including a number at Christine Abrahams Gallery, Melbourne; in 2005-6, McClelland Gallery, at Langwarrin in Victoria, presented a selected survey of her work; and from 1983 onwards Oliver participated in numerous group exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including in Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Korea and China (her final solo exhibition was posthumous). At the same time, she undertook many commissions where she worked closely with clients and stakeholders, and for 19 years taught art to primary school students at Sydney’s Cranbrook School.

Prodigiously hardworking, Oliver was renowned for devising exquisite sculptures for the public domain, installed in locations as various as the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Hilton Hotel and Quay Restaurant in inner-city Sydney, and on the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales. Other noted public works are in the Queen Street Mall, Brisbane, Hyatt Hotel, Adelaide and Orange Regional Gallery in regional NSW. Her work is also held in most major Australian public collections, and in numerous important public and private collections in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA.

The Estate of Bronwyn Oliver is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.”

Press release from the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

installation view, 'The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver', TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016

 

Installation view (side gallery space), The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, TarraWarra Museum of Art, 2016
Spiral IV 1993 and in case Women’s suffrage maquette 2002
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Spiral IV' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Spiral IV (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Spiral IV' (detail) 2003

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Spiral IV (detail)
2003
Copper
Private collection
© Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Women's Suffrage maquette' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Women’s Suffrage maquette (detail)
2002
Copper, nickel
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006) 'Women's Suffrage maquette' (detail) 2002

 

Bronwyn Oliver (1959-2006)
Women’s Suffrage maquette (detail)
2002
Copper, nickel
Collection © Estate of Bronwyn Oliver. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Photo: © TarraWarra Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

TarraWarra Museum of Art
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road,
Healesville, Victoria, Australia
Melway reference: 277 B2
Tel: +61 (0)3 5957 3100

Opening hours:
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Open all public holidays except Christmas day

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12
Apr
16

Carte de visite: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man

April 2016

Caution: Art Blart advises that the subject of this posting may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

 

 

This carte de visit (top below) was offered for sale recently and went for a large sum of money. I have never seen this photograph before and, although I have searched for it on the National Library of Australia Trove website and online, I cannot find it anywhere. But I thought I recognised the figure in the middle of the photograph. Some research ensued…

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Firstly, according to Alan Davis’ seminal 1985 book The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900 William Bardwell, photographer, operated from 21 Collins Street East, Melbourne between 1880-88. So we can date this carte de visite accurately to between those years, although I feel the image would be closer to 1880 than 1888 due to the colour of Barak’s hair.

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Secondly, I recognised the distinctive countenance and piercing stare of that inspirational Indigenous leader, William Barak (c. 1824 – 15 August 1903), in the centre of the image. We can see he is wearing a roughly hewn jacket with waistcoat, stripped shirt and zigzag patterned necktie. His presence dominates the photograph – central, frontal, tallest and flanked by two sitting people, all placed idyllically against a lush backdrop of trees and an Arcadian stone fence. “Those who knew Barak described him unanimously as wise and dignified, with penetrating eyes and firm principles.”

At the time this photograph was taken, Barak would have been anywhere between 56-64 years old, depending on the exact year it was taken. Barak would have been Ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan since 1875 and would lead his people living on the Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. But these were unsettling times with 60 people being evicted from the station in 1886 and the station loosing half its land in 1893. So much for the Aboriginal Protection Board, what a misnomer the title of that organisation turned out to be. As Barak famously said, “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray.”

All of this was happening, including the taking of the photograph, when Barak was going through the most tremendous personal hardship as well. In 1882, his son David (see photograph by Fred Kruger below) fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

I have much admiration for this man, for the hardships he personally endured and which his people went through, and continue to go through to this day.

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And thirdly, the pith helmet was the give away to the identity of the person sitting at left in the photograph: Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization. As an explorer, Howitt led the relief exhibition to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray, only to find only King alive and bring him back to Melbourne. He then returned a second time to Cooper’s Creek to repatriate the bodies of Burke and Wills.

In 1863 he began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. But his real passion was as an anthropologist, his work stretching through fours phases between 1861-1907 (see the full biography for details).

“On his expedition to the Barcoo Howitt had met members of the Yantruwanta, Dieri and other tribes while they were uninfluenced by Europeans. He learned, though inexpertly, something of their ecology, languages, beliefs and customs. The experience confirmed in him a dissociation between the Aboriginals as an object of scientific interest and as a challenge to social policy. Family letters show that he went to central Australia sharing the racial and social prejudices of the day. His attitudes softened later but nothing in his writings suggests that he ever agreed with the condemnation of Europeans for their treatment of native peoples expressed in his father’s polemical Colonization and Christianity (1838). Even in official roles – he was for a time a local guardian of Aboriginals in Gippsland and in 1877 sat on the royal commission which inquired into their whole situation – his attitude appears always to have been that of the dispassionate scientist. His view of their problems did not extend beyond charitable paternalism and segregated training in institutions. His dealings with Aboriginals were cordial and appreciative if somewhat calculated, and he had no difficulty in finding long-serving helpers among them in all his inquiries. But he saw them as a people doomed to extinction by an extraordinary primitivity, and this quality aroused his scientific interest…

“More appreciative eyes … now recognize that Howitt greatly widened the base, improved the methods and deepened the insights of a nascent science. He wrote in a careful, informed way on a wealth of empirical topics – boomerangs, canoes, name-giving, cannibalism, migrations, wizardry, songs, message-sticks, sign-language – but most valuably on the kinship structures and intergroup relations of social life.”1

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This is a fascinating carte de visite for its cultural implications… and for what it leaves unsaid of the attitudes and history of the men pictured in this bucolic scene. William Barak was a man, a leader and an elder who kept the flame of his people and his culture alive. Who after all of his travails, turned to creativity and painting to record his culture for future generations. Culture and creativity in any language is a powerful healing force in what is an ongoing story of injustice and persecution. I would have very much liked to have meet this wise man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart
.

  1. W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.

 

William Bardwell. Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)' Melbourne, 1880-1888

 

William Bardwell
Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)
Melbourne, 1880-1888
Albumen photograph
Carte de visite

 

Talma & Co. 'Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe. [Barak drawing a corroboree]' c. 1895-98

 

Talma & Co. (1893-1932) 119 Swanston St. Melbourne
Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe [Barak drawing a corroboree]
c. 1895-98
gelatin silver photograph
13.3 x 8.5 cm., on mount 22.7 x 16.5 cm
Inscribed in ink on mount l.l.: From Mrs. A. Bon, / “Wappan”.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Barak working on a drawing attached to the wall of a vertical slab hut. There is a wooden picket fence at the right hand side.

 

 

William Barak (c. 1824 – 1903) and Coranderrk

William Barak (or Beruk), was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne, Australia. He became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore.

Barak was born in the early 1820s at Brushy Creek near present-day Croydon, in the country of the Wurundjeri people… Barak attended the government’s Yarra Mission School from 1837 to 1839. When he joined the Native Mounted Police in 1844, he was given the name of William Barak. He was Police Trooper No.19. In early 1863, Barak moved to Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, Victoria with about thirty others… Upon the death of Simon Wonga in 1875, Barak became the Ngurungaeta of the clan. He worked tirelessly for his people and was a successful negotiator on their behalf. He was a highly respected man and leader, with standing amongst the Indigenous people and the European settlers.

Coranderrk Station

Coranderrk Station ran successfully for many years as an Aboriginal enterprise, selling wheat, hops and crafts on the burgeoning Melbourne market. Produce from the farm won first prize at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881; and other awards in previous years, such as 1872. By 1874, the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) was looking for ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. Neighbouring farmers also wanted the mission closed as the land was now deemed ‘too valuable’ for Aboriginal people to occupy. Photographer Fred Kruger was commissioned to document the site and its inhabitants.

Coranderrk Petition

In the 1870s and ’80s, Coranderrk residents sent deputations to the Victorian colonial government protesting their lack of rights and the threatened closure of the reserve. A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal ‘problem’ led to the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required ‘half-castes under the age of 35’ to leave the reserve.

Activist William Barak and others sent a petition on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk to the Victorian Government in 1886, which reads: “Could we get our freedom to go away Shearing and Harvesting and to come home when we wish and also to go for the good of our Health when we need it … We should be free like the White Population there is only few Blacks now rem[a]ining in Victoria, we are all dying away now and we Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time … Why does the Board seek in these latter days more stronger authority over us Aborigines than it has yet been?”

As a result of the Aborigines Protection Act of 1886, around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. Their forced departure crippled Coranderrk as an enterprise, with only around 15 able-bodied men left to work the hitherto successful hop gardens. Almost half the land was reclaimed by government in 1893, and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I.

.
Barak is now best remembered for his artworks, which show both traditional Indigenous life and encounters with Europeans. Most of Barak’s drawings were completed at Coranderrk during the 1880s and 1890s. They are now highly prized and exhibited in leading public galleries in Australia. His work is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, Melbourne.”

Text from the “William Barak” and “Coranderrk” Wikipedia web pages.

 

Fred Kruger. 'David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c.1876

 

Fred Kruger
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1876
Museum Victoria

 

 

“This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Review of “‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes” at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne” on the Art Blart website 01/07/2012 [Online] Cited 08/04/2016.

 

Fred Kruger. 'Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk' c.1877

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888)
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
c.1877
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

 

Unknown photographer. '[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]' Nd

 

Unknown photographer
[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]
Nd [perhaps c. 1895-1900 looking at the age of Barak]
Silver gelatin photograph
15.6 x 20.1 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Studio portrait of sixteen Aboriginal men, five standing, five seated on chairs, the rest on the ground, all except two full face, wearing European dress. William Barak back row 2nd left. Information provided by Aunty Joy Murphy, Wurundjeri Senior Elder confirming that Barak is correctly identified. Preferred title supplied by the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Museum of Victoria.

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony' c. 1880 - c. 1890

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.2 x 55.5 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu' c. 1880 - c. 1890

 

William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.0 x 56.0 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908)

“Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization, was born on 17 April 1830 at Nottingham, England, the oldest surviving son of William Howitt and his wife Mary, née Botham. He was educated in England, Heidelberg and University College School, London. In 1852, under the press of family needs, he went with his father and brother Charlton to Melbourne where they had been preceded in 1840 by William’s youngest brother Godfrey. A reunion was one purpose of the visit but William and his sons also intended to try their fortunes on the new goldfields. They did so with modest success at intervals in the next two years. The experience turned the course of Alfred’s life. He learned to live with confidence in the bush, and its natural phenomena, so strange and as yet so little studied, stimulated his mind to their scientific study. In 1854 his father and brother returned to England but Howitt elected to remain, thoroughly at home in the Australian scene.

Young and handsome, of short and wiry build and notably calm and self-possessed, he fulfilled his mother’s prophecy that ‘someday Alfred will be a backwoodsman’. For a time he farmed his uncle’s land at Caulfield but, unattracted by the life, turned again to the bush and as a drover on the route from the Murray to Melbourne made the passing acquaintance of Lorimer Fison. An experienced bushman and ardent naturalist, Howitt was sent in 1859 by a Melbourne syndicate to examine the pastoral potential of the Lake Eyre region on which Peter Warburton had reported rosily. He led a party with skill and speed from Adelaide through the Flinders Ranges into the Davenport Range country but found it desolated by drought and returned to warn his sponsors. His ability as a bushman and resourceful leader came to public notice when, after briefly managing a sheep station at Hamilton and prospecting in Gippsland, he took a government party through unexplored alpine country to gold strikes on the Crooked, Dargo and Wentworth Rivers. He was an obvious choice as leader when in 1861 the exploration committee of the Royal Society of Victoria decided to send an expedition to relieve or, as the worst fears sensed, to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray. Howitt’s discharge of this assignment was exemplary. Without blunder or loss he twice led large parties on the long journey to Cooper’s Creek. He soon found King, the only survivor, and took him to a public welcome in Melbourne but avoided the limelight for himself. Then, at request, he returned to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to the capital for interment. On the second expedition he had explored a large tract of the Barcoo country.

For his services Howitt was appointed police magistrate and warden of the Omeo goldfields, and in 1863 began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. He retired in January 1902 on a pension but served on the royal commission which in 1903 examined sites for the seat of government of the Commonwealth, and was chairman of the royal commission on the Victorian coal industry in 1905-06.

Such a career would have sufficed an ordinary man but Howitt attained greater things within it. Physical and intellectual fatigue seemed unknown to him. ‘What are they?’ he asked drily at 75 when Fison inquired if he never felt the infirmities of old age. In his long magistracy he travelled enormous distances annually (in one year, it was said, 7000 miles [11,265 km]) on horseback throughout Victoria. He read while in the saddle and studied the natural scene with such assiduous care that from 1873 onward he began to contribute to official reports, scientific journals and learned societies papers of primary value on the Gippsland rocks. He pioneered the use in Australia of thin-section petrology and chemical analysis of rocks. His fundamental contribution was his discovery and exploration of the Upper Devonian series north of Bairnsdale. He also made important studies of the Lower Devonian volcanics in East Gippsland and compiled magnificent geological maps of the area. In botany his Eucalypts of Gippsland (1889) became a standard authority and he collected hundreds of varieties of ferns, grasses, acacias and flowering plants. But his greatest eminence came from his work in anthropology, which was his main interest and relaxation after 1872…

Read the full biography by W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.

 

Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' c. 1863

 

Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
c. 1863
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
9.0 x 5.2 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Howitt full length in the photographers’ studio, leaning on a button-backed chair, wearing a three-piece winter suit, with a watch-chain and holding a pair of gloves in his right hand.

 

Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' Nd

 

Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
Nd
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
on mount 10.7 x 6.5 cm approx.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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