Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Laing After Heysen

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

.
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

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm
Open all public holidays except Christmas day

Summer Season – open 7 days
Open 7 days per week from Boxing Day to the Australia Day public holiday

TarraWarra Museum of Art website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

01
May
11

Exhibition: ‘Photography & place: Australian landscape photography, 1970s until now’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 29th May 2011

.

Hot on the heels of my reviews of ‘Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography’ at NGV Australia and ‘Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs’ at Australian Galleries, Melbourne comes the exhibition ‘Photography & place: Australian landscape photography, 1970s until now’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. An insightful, eloquent text by Vigen Galstyan (Assistant curator, photographs, AGNSW) accompanies the posting.

Many thankx to Susanne Briggs for her help and to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs and the text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

.

.

.

Debra Phillips
‘Untitled 7 (view from model plane launch area)’
2001
From the series ‘The world as puzzle’
Two Type C photographs
68 x 80cm each
Image courtesy the artist and BREENSPACE, Sydney
© Debra Phillips

.

.

Douglas Holleley
‘Bottle-brush near Sleaford Bay, South Australia’
1979
Four SX-70 Polaroid photographs
61 x 76 cm
AGNSW collection, purchased 1982
© Douglas Holleley

.

.

Ian North
‘Canberra suite no 2’
1980, printed c.1984
From the series ‘Canberra suite 1980-81’
Type C photograph
37 x 45.7 cm
AGNSW collection, gift of the artist
© Ian North

.

.

EARTH SCANS AND BUSH RELEVANCES: Photography & place in Australia, 1970s till now

For many of us, landscape is a noun. A view from the window or the balcony, a strange immaterial ‘thing’ that makes people exclaim in awe, point to in pride, recall nostalgically, pose in front of or be used to bump up real estate prices. If one is an urban dweller, which most Australians are, then the landscape exists essentially as a mirage, something to create in the backyard, occasionally look at on holidays or hang on the walls. However, noted American cultural theorist and art historian W. J. T. Mitchell has proposed that we should think of landscape as a verb: an act of creation on our part that engenders cultural constructs, national identities and shared mythologies.

Photography & place is an exhibition that investigates this process of ‘landscaping’ through the work of 18 Australian photographers between the 1970s and now. Their significant contribution to representation of landscape broke new ground in what has always been a confounding topic. Indeed, as Judy Annear has pointed out in a 2008 essay in Broadsheet magazine, the practice of documenting and interpreting the notion of ‘place’ in Australian photography has been fragmentary in comparison to traditions in America, Europe or New Zealand. This reluctance to focus on the natural environment is perhaps a residue of the ‘terra nullius’ polemic, which shifted the attention of many photographers on the building of colonial Australia. Photography from the mid 19th to the early 20th century by photographers such as Charles Bayliss and Nicholas Caire actively documented the conquest of nature by white settlers, or presented views of untouched wilderness as epitomes of the picturesque: endless waterfalls, lakes, forests in twilights, enigmatic caves and an occasional nymph like creature prancing. Despite Bayliss’ efforts to show the indigenous people on their land, they are, as Helen Ennis observed in her 2007 book Photography and Australia, conspicuous by their absence: the land that we see surrounding them in early Australian photography by the likes of J.W. Lindt is often a mass-produced painted studio backdrop.

The advent of modernism in the 1930s only served to entrench the photographers deeper into the urban space. ‘Place’ is the city and it is here that industry, progress and culture shapes the Australian identity. It is still difficult to dislodge the iconic images of Max Dupain and David Moore as epitomes of Australianness, promulgated as they were through countless renditions in mass media and consumer culture. But as post-modern anxiety started to seep through the patchwork of the Australian dream, it was landscape that many critically informed photographers turned to as a tool for analysis and revision.

A number of factors conflated in the mid 1970s, engendering a radical shift in perspectives. One of the primary forces that began to reshape the approaches to landscape in Australian photography was the awareness of new artistic movements taking place in USA and Europe. The enormously influential exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape held in 1975 at the George Eastman House, Rochester, consolidated the spread of minimalist and conceptually informed photography which was avidly embraced by a younger generation of Australian photographers. One can also cite the rise of the Australian greens movement in Tasmania, the increasing awareness of Indigenous cultures and rights and not the least, the phenomenon of university-educated photographers as key milestones during this decade.

Lynn Silverman, Douglas Holleley, Jon Rhodes, Wes Stacey and Marion Marrison were among the practitioners who pointed their lenses out of the city, often exploring the fringes of human settlement and sometimes as in the case of Silverman, Stacey and Holleley, venturing into the desert. The element that collectively stamps their work is the ostensible fragmentation of the landscape. Instead of the holistic, positivist postcard views of Australia, we get something resembling a lunar vista. The palpable sense of alienation in American expatriate Lynn Silverman’s striking Horizons series from 1979 echoes in the disorienting grid-based Polaroid assemblages by Holleley conjuring up a space that appears hostile and to a degree indifferent to our presence. The foreignness of these landscapes is not necessarily a malevolent force as was customary to show in a slate of Australian New Wave films of the 70s and 80s. Rather a much more meditative stance is taken in regards to our relationship to a place which has been claimed without being understood or in many ways respected. Ingeborg Tyssen’s photographs hint at existing presences, forms and phenomena which are full of life and meaning that remain perpetually unresolved to an outsider. The imported paradigms of Western culture can not take root in this environment. One could easily define the landscape photography of this period in Lynn Silverman’s words as “an orienting experience” and a belated attempt at a proper reconnaissance of the land.

The coolly detached outlook that underlines the investigative drive of most of these photographers is magnified by their adoption of serial or multi-panel formats. It was certainly a way to expand and collapse the accepted faculties of the pictorial field, challenging and questioning the accepted notions of photographic ‘truth’. Jon Rhodes demonstrates the inherent power of this simple device in his cinematically sequential Gurkawey, Trial Bay, NT 1974, which transforms a seemingly wild and uninhabitable swamp into a joyful playground of an Aboriginal child.

In some instances the photographic approach is more concerned with elucidating the nature of the photographic image itself and the way it can influence and control our perception. As Arnold Hauser has lucidly described in his groundbreaking Social History of Art, images have always been used to secure and infer political power. As such, the metamorphosis of a visual representation into an iconographic one carries within it an element of danger as images begin to seduce the viewer away from objectivity. Indeed, images of Australia have been the most relentlessly and carefully used signifiers in promoting a (colonial) national consciousness by political, commercial and cultural institutions. In this light, it is not difficult to see the works of Wes Stacey and Ian North as acts of iconoclasm. Stacey’s droll and gently parodic series The road 1973-75, charts a snapshot journey that goes nowhere. Seemingly random, half-glimpsed shots of empty dirt roads, sunburnt grass mounds and endless highways emanate a sense of rootlessness and displacement, negating any possibility of objectification or identification with the landscape. Instead of epic grandeur and jingoism we get something that is confronting, uncomfortably real and in no way ‘advertisable’.

‘The Real’ is even more startling in Ian North’s subversive Canberra suite 1980-81, where the utopian dream capital has been reduced to banal ‘documents’ of depopulated, custom-made suburbia. The hyperreal concreteness of North’s Canberra gives the city an aura of a De Chiricoesque waking nightmare. In line with the set practices of conceptual photography of the period, North has distilled his images from any sign of formal mediation, forcing the viewer to focus on the raw content. It is through this forensic directness that the strange incongruity of human intervention within the landscape becomes ostensible.

Daniel Palmer has noted that North’s images “are highly prescient of much photography produced by artists in Australia today”. Certainly by the 1980s photographers became more actively engaged in analysing the nature/culture median. Strongly influenced by feminist and post-colonial theory, a number of practitioners used photography as a medium to document ideas rather than objective reality. Anne Ferran and Simryn Gill are particularly notable in this regard. Both artists are concerned with the historical and political dimensions of the locations they chose to photograph, resulting in multi-layered and complex strategies that require more involved intellectual interaction from the audience. Gill’s ‘staged’ photographs relate to us the agency of nature and time upon the cultural environment. Synthesis and amalgamation of outwardly irreconcilable elements – imported plants, Australian bush, cotton shirts – slowly, but surely melt into new, as yet unknown entities in Rampant 1999. The force of inevitable decay is absolute yet imbued with generative power as well. Exploring the constantly shifting certainties of what constitutes a ‘place’ the artist draws the audience into questioning its own role in this transformative process.

Ferran takes a more archaeological position in relation to her subject matter. Her eerie surveys of rather ordinary grass mounds in the series Lost to worlds 2008 become evocative paeans to obliterated lives, once we learn that the mounds are all that remain of the factories where convict women were sent to work. Looking at these shimmering ghost worlds one is reminded of Walter Benjamin’s essay The Ruin where the writer analyses the capacity of ruins to reveal the “philosophical truth content”. It is through this allegorical device that Ferran achieves a degree of rehabilitation for the absent histories she photographs.

History, in its manifold and troubling guises, is directly ‘exposed’ in the landscapes of Ricky Maynard, Michael Riley and Rosemary Laing. As Indigenous photographers, Maynard and Riley have played an important role in translating the cultural and political status of Aboriginal peoples into a ‘language’ that is universally understood. Their work remains firmly rooted in the traditions of contemporary art, yet the heavily symbolical slant shows a more ardent and personal engagement with the Australian landscape. Riley’s expressionistic series flyblown 1998 sums up in a few strategically juxtaposed metaphors the spiritual dimension of the landscape, while simultaneously revealing the diverging connotations of Australia’s fundamentally divided identity. The colonial legacy is shown as one of conquest and domination that clashes with the artist’s engagement with country. Maynard’s Portrait of a distant land 2005, explores the same dichotomy in more site specific terms. After permanently settling in Flinders Island, Maynard decided to return to the portrayal of Tasmanian Aborigines, taking a more collaborative approach. He sees this as a way of bypassing the propensity of the photographic image “to subjugate its subjects”. The resulting series is a profoundly poetic treatment that rises above social documentation to suggest the wider implications of historical change and disclose the ability of people to overcome what the artist has described as victimisation through a deeply compassionate relationship with the land. Ultimately Maynard gives us an edifying testimony to the affirmative power of the landscape as collective memory.

Interest in the political aspects of landscape photography has continued unabated into the 21st century. Yet a more philosophically inclined thread has become evident in the last two decades. No longer is it enough to deconstruct and pull apart ideas about landscape’s relationship to identity and nationhood. What photographers like Bill Henson, David Stephenson, Simone Douglas and Rosemary Laing question is the very possibility (or impossibility) of seeing itself. If positioning oneself in relation to nature seems like a distinct, albeit problematic proposition in the 1970s and 80s, the later works in the exhibition are resolutely ambivalent on the subject.

What can one grab onto when faced with the endless expanses of white in Stephenson’s The ice 1992, the terrifying darkness of Henson’s night scenes or the infuriating haze of Douglas’s twilight worlds? Perhaps the only recourse is to dissolve into the beckoning ‘forever’ of the vanishing point in Laing’s To walk on a sea of salt 2004. This void is not a boundary point between nature and culture – it is where culture ends and an entirely new state of consciousness begins: the realm of the sublime and the imagination. As history seems no longer to be trustworthy, ‘place’ can only be constructed as a metaphysical entity. It is a curious turnabout in some ways that echoes some of the early, turn-of-the-century encounters with the Australian landscape by photographers such as John Paine and Norman C. Deck. The sense of fear and awe towards the unfamiliar environment permeates their images, transcending the merely investigative/didactic motives of most colonial photography. What has eventuated from walking into this environment? Subjugation? Destruction? Incomprehension? Indifference? By going back to the point zero of the void and the sublime, contemporary photography negotiates a second attempt at engagement with nature through a renewed and deeper understanding of humanity’s symbiotic relationship with this life-giving force.”

Vigen Galstyan
Assistant curator, photographs 1

.

.

.

Rosemary Laing
‘After Heysen’
2005
Type C photograph
110 x 252 cm
On loan from The Australian Club, Melbourne
Image courtesy of the arts & Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
© Rosemary Laing

.

.

Jon Rhodes
‘Hobart, Tasmania’
1972-75
From the album ‘Australia’
1 of 53 gelatin silver photographs
11.9 x 17.7 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 1980
© Jon Rhodes

.

.

Michael Riley
‘Untitled’
From the series ‘flyblown’
Pigment print
82 x 107.8 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Anonymous gift to the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and Photography collections 2010
© Michael Riley Estate. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney.

.

.

Simryn Gill
‘Untitled’
1999
from the series ‘Rampant’
Gelatin silver photograph
25 x 24 cm
AGNSW collection, gift of the artist, 2005
© Simryn Gill

.

.

1. Galstyan, Vigen. “EARTH SCANS AND BUSH RELEVANCES: Photography & place in Australia, 1970s till now,” in Look gallery magazine. Sydney: Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, 2011, pp.25-29.

.

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,362 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Recent Posts

Lastest tweets

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.

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories