Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Laing

09
Nov
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Mist Burnt Country’ at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 18th November 2018

Curator: JD Mittmann

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following post may contain images and voices of people who have died.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'One Dozen Considerations - Emu Totem I' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing (b. 1959)
One Dozen Considerations – Emu Totem I
2013
C type photograph
49 x 76 cm
© Rosemary Laing

 

 

The empty yet altered landscape takes on different moods with Rosemary Laing’s, One Dozen Considerations Totem 1 – Emu (2013) monument marking the site of an weapon’s test with a British flag flying behind it. Both look like conqueror’s claims to territory, powerful images of the attempts to colonise Indigenous space, to write a colonial history through markers of significance, to write out the Indigenous voice but at the same time to appropriate Indigenous ideas and language. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

 

Field of thunder ~ big devil spirit ~ colonial fireworks

a/atom

late 15th century: from Old French atome, via Latin from Greek atomos ‘indivisible’, based on a- ‘not’ + temnein ‘to cut’.

 

a/secret

something that is not properly understood; a mystery

 

a/secretion

from French sécrétion or Latin secretio(n- ) ‘separation’, from secret- ‘moved apart’, from the verb secernere

 

a/desecration

late 17th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + a shortened form of consecrate

 

a/segregation

the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment

 

Lest we forget what was bequeathed the land, Traditional Owners and servicemen by the British and Australian governments. Death, disease, displacement from Country and radioactivity so they can never return. Literally sickening. Shame, shame and more shame.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Museum of Australia for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

There was also a lot of tearing down of Aboriginal sites according to what I’ve heard and just sort of this blinkered vision, and I think it’s a horrible education to learn that’s the way Aboriginal in those areas were perceived… and then you look at the ramifications of the health of both the people and the land and how that has been totally compromised…

Whether it came to treatment of Aboriginal people or whether it came to treatment of the environment. Hopefully [the exhibition will] engender something that people will fight, fight for their rights and fight for their land.

.
Waanyi artist Judy Watson

 

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia' 2006

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Yami Lester at Walatinna Station, South Australia
2006
Digital inkjet print
85 x 85 cm
© Jessie Boylan

 

 

Yami Lester, Walatinna Station, South Australia, 2006 – In 1953, Yami, a Yankunytjatjara man, was ten years old, living at Wallatinna Station when Totem One went off, it was part of a series of atmospheric atomic bombs that the British and Australian governments were testing during the 50’s and 60’s at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia and the Monte Bello Islands off the West Australian coast. He was blinded not long after the fallout. (Jessie Boylan)

 

 

Yami Lester (Boylan)
Yunkunytjatjara man Yami Lester talks about the mysterious poisonous ‘black mist’ that badly affected Aboriginal area after the Totem 1 atomic test in 1952

 

 

At Maralinga, the tests caused adverse effects on both the local people and military personnel, but in many cases it was difficult to determine the extent to which people had been affected. But for Yankunytjatjara Elder Tjamu Yami Lester it was devastating. He was blinded at 10 years old as a result of the ‘black mist’ that descended onto his country.

He died last year at the age of 75.

Much of his life was spent fighting for people affected by nuclear testing, subsequently becoming the public face of a tireless campaign. He led the push for the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, which resulted in a clean-up of the testing ground and compensation for the Anangu people. While reparations can never repair the damage inflicted upon Yami Lester, his people and country, his remarkable legacy lives on.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Blak Douglas. 'Tjarutja Tragedy' 2016

 

Blak Douglas (b. 1970)
Tjarutja Tragedy
2016
Tragedy
Synthetic polymer on canvas
100 x 200 cm
© Blak Douglas

 

 

The burnt, barren trees in Blak Douglas’s Tjarutja Tragedy are bent, leaning to one side with their branches split in two representing the letter Y.

“That’s because I’m asking why did this happened to us people?”

The Dunghutti artist’s work captures a land destroyed by atomic testing in Australia and speaks to the deep displacement of its Traditional Owners.

“I wanted to create a piece that really encapsulated the return of blackfellas to their country when your country has been blasted. It’s metaphoric for a lot of blackfellas… [And] effectively it’s a metaphor for the continent en masse, and how much of us can’t return to our tribal homelands including myself.”

“Whole peoples were dispossessed from their country and this was done complicity on behalf of the British government and the Australian people really had no say in it.” …

Blak Douglas says his own work was inspired by Mr Lester’s spirited crusade [see above].

“I remember seeing images of him and I googled Maralinga on YouTube a long time ago and I saw Uncle Yami as he was blinded as result of the atomic tests,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated this painting to that mob and I’m proud of that and I’m sure that Uncle Yami, or that mob there when I meet them in due time, will be embracing of it.”

He says Maralinga was one of the “worst atrocities any blackfella has suffered.”

“To blow bombs like that on country and to name them gammin white names or code names that’s just the epitome of colonial fireworks,” he says.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

 

Blak Douglas
Sydney-based artist Blak Douglas talks about his painting ‘Tjarutja Tragedy’ which is part of the exhibition Black Mist Burnt Country

 

Paul Ogier. 'One Tree (former emu field atom test site)' 2010

 

Paul Ogier (b. 1974, New Zealand)
One Tree (former emu field atom test site)
2010
Carbon pigment on rag paper
94 x 117 cm
© Paul Ogier

 

 

An award-winning national touring exhibition of artworks by over 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, commemorating the British atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s, opens today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Black Mist Burnt Country features artworks from the past seven decades, selected from public and private collections, including works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Pam Debenham, Toni Robertson, Rosemary Laing, Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown, Judy Watson, Hilda Moodoo and Yvonne Edwards.

Developed by the Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Black Mist Burnt Country revisits the history of the British atomic test program at Maralinga, Emu Field and Montebello Islands and examines the impact on people and land, as well as its on-going legacies.

It presents works across the mediums of painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography, new media and music, while exploring the varied perspectives and creative approaches of artists from post-Second World War modernists to contemporary artists.

A variety of interactive elements enable visitors to gain insights into the social, political and environmental dimensions, while placing the Australian atomic tests in the context of the nuclear arms race and its present-day realities.

Margo Neale, Head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledge Centre and Advisor to the Director, said, ‘This potent exhibition by a cast of great artists broaches a number of thresholds in the telling of Australian history through art, and the role of museums in bringing these relatively little-known stories to life. These visual stories penetrate the heart while revealing little-known truths of human consequence about a tragic event in our shared history.’

Burrinja exhibition curator JD Mittmann said, ‘It is surprising how few people are aware that atomic bombs were exploded in Australia, and how little they know about the dislocation of Aboriginal people, the exposure of Australian servicemen and the contamination of the land. This exhibition offers some remarkable insights into a chapter of our history that has long-lasting consequences, while it poses some important questions in relation to contemporary nuclear issues’.

The project has been produced by Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre, Upwey, Victoria and has been on tour nationally since September 2016, when it marked the 60th anniversary of the first British test at Maralinga. The project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program and developed through the Exhibition Development Fund of National Exhibition Touring Support (NETS) Victoria. The project has also received financial assistance from the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Black Mist Burnt Country received the 2017 Museums Australia Victoria Archival Survival Award (Small Museums) and a Highly Commended at the Museums Australia National Conference (Touring and Temporary Exhibitions).

Press release from the National Museum of Australia

 

Karen Standke. 'Road to Maralinga II' 2007

 

Karen Standke (b. 1973, Germany)
Road to Maralinga II
2007
Oil on canvas
112 x 85 cm
© Karen Standke

 

Kate Shaw. 'Charcoal, UK: Maralinga' 2012

 

Kate Shaw (b. 1969)
Charcoal, UK: Maralinga
2012
Acrylic and resin on board
120 x 240 cm
© Kate Shaw

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

Adam Norton
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton talks about his work Prohibited Area, which is part of a series of reproduced signs he encountered in “nuclear badlands”.

 

'Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road' 1974

 

Maralinga Prohibited Area sign on Emu/Nawa Road
1974
National Archives of Australia NAA: A6457, P042

 

 

British nuclear tests at Maralinga

Historical context

On 3 October 1952, the United Kingdom tested its first nuclear weapon, named “Hurricane”, at the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. A year later the first nuclear test on the Australian mainland was Totem 1 (9.1 kilotonnes of TNT (38 TJ)) at Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert, South Australia, on 15 October 1953. Totem 2 (7.1 kilotonnes of TNT (30 TJ)) followed two weeks later on 27 October. The Supply Minister, Howard Beale, stated in 1955 that “England has the know how; we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland. Between us we should help to build the defences of the free world, and make historic advances in harnessing the forces of nature.”

The British government formally requested a permanent test facility on 30 October 1953. Due to concerns about nuclear fallout from the previous tests at Emu Field and the site’s inadequate infrastructure and water supply, the recently surveyed Maralinga site was selected for this purpose. The new site was announced in May 1955. It was developed as a joint, co-funded facility between the British and Australian governments.

Prior to selection, the Maralinga site was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, for whom it had a great spiritual significance. Many were relocated to a new settlement at Yalata, and attempts were made to curtail access to the Maralinga site. These were often unsuccessful. (My emphasis) …

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs study concluded that “Overall, the doses received by Australian participants were small. … Only 2% of participants received more than the current Australian annual dose limit for occupationally exposed persons (20 mSv).” However, such findings are contested. Australian servicemen were ordered to: repeatedly fly through the mushroom clouds from atomic explosions, without protection; and to march into ground zero immediately after bomb detonation. Airborne drifts of radioactive material resulted in “radioactive rain” being dropped on Brisbane and Queensland country areas. A 1999 study for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association found that 30 per cent of involved veterans had died, mostly in their fifties, from cancers.

Successive Australian governments failed to compensate servicemen who contracted cancers following exposure to radiation at Maralinga. However, after a British decision in 1988 to compensate its own servicemen, the Australian Government negotiated compensation for several Australian servicemen suffering from two specific conditions, leukaemia (except lymphatic leukaemia) and the rare blood disorder multiple myeloma.

One author suggests that the resettlement and denial of aboriginal access to their homelands “contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life.” In 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja, which resulted in the payment of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. (My emphasis)

 

Media coverage

According to Liz Tynan from James Cook University, the Maralinga tests were a striking example of what can happen when the popular media are unable to report on activities that the government may be trying to hide. Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, but by the late 1970s there was a marked change in how the Australian media covered the British nuclear tests. Some resourceful investigative journalists emerged, whistle-blowers such as Avon Hudson [see photograph below] spoke out and political scrutiny became more intense. The investigative journalist Brian Toohey ran a series of stories in the Australian Financial Review in October 1978, based in part on a leaked Cabinet submission.

In June 1993, New Scientist journalist Ian Anderson wrote an article entitled “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga” and several related articles. They are a detailed analysis of the legacy of Vixen B and the Australian government’s prolonged negotiations with the United Kingdom on cleaning up Maralinga and sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium. Previously, much of this highly toxic nuclear waste had simply been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure, purpose-built, concrete bunkers. In 1993, Anderson won two Michael Daley Awards for his Maralinga articles.

Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up is a book by Alan Parkinson about the clean-up following the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, published in 2007. Parkinson, a nuclear engineer, explains that the clean-up of Maralinga in the late 1990s was compromised by cost-cutting and simply involved dumping hazardous radioactive debris in shallow holes in the ground. Parkinson states that “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Australian Atomic Confessions

Sacrificial Lambs on the High Alter of Science

Australian servicemen and nomadic Aboriginals reveal the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s. For the first time, members of the Royal Australian Army, Air Force and Navy describe former top secret aspects of those tests. With the use of rare archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Australian Atomic Confessions chronicles the hidden history and exposes previously hidden Government cover-ups. The consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people and land are not just skeletons of the past. Sydneys’ new nuclear reactor continues to pose a threat to the environment and civilians, and the problem of removing and disposing of the old nuclear reactor remains an unanswered question. Prominent Aboriginal Elders also warn that an imminent catastrophe may occur in Central Australia as a result of two uranium mines. Australian Atomic Confessions is a chilling expose of nuclear testing and its damaging legacy, one that continues to this day.

 

Jessie Boylan. 'Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga' 2011-2015

 

Jessie Boylan (b. 1986)
Portrait of a whistleblower: Avon Hudson was a leading aircraftman for the RAAF during the nuclear tests in Maralinga
2011-2015
Image: Burrinja Cultural Centre

 

 

This series chronicles Avon Hudson’s life, from early years growing up in regional South Australia, to service in the Royal Australian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftman, through the experience of British atomic bomb tests, to his “whistle blower” act of revealing Maralinga’s deadly legacy.

What Avon knew, and was prepared to tell publically about Maralinga, contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-85). His motivation was to put a halt to government plans to return Maralinga to its traditional owners, pending a full clean-up of land still contaminated by radioactive debris.

The story of nuclear testing is unknown to most Australians. Between 1952 and 1963, after a decision made by Prime Minister Menzies alone, nine atomic bombs were exploded and hundreds of ‘minor’ experiments were conducted at the British-run testing ranges at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia. Three bombs were also exploded at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia.

The impacts of these experiments continue to play out in the ill health and changed lives of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, who were exposed to or involved in the tests, over multiple generations. The tests have also left a deep-future legacy of environmental contamination.

It is a portrait of someone with a photographic memory, capable of grasping and articulating every detail of the atomic age as he experienced it.

It depicts a committed citizen and serviceman, husband and father, always an advocate and an activist, who in civilian life became a Wakefield councillor for over 20 years. It shows a practical man – mechanic, wood-turner and furniture maker; and portrays a nature-enthusiast and an educator on environmental and social issues.

It is also a portrait of someone who has invariably lived by his convictions – as that’s what whistleblowers do. Since the 1970s, Avon has campaigned for recognition of nuclear veterans and civilian personnel. As his co-authored book “Beyond Belief” records, “His life has been deeply affected by a sense of injustice and by the callousness of successive Australian and British governments ignoring the plight of those caught up in ‘the grand game’.”

This series is a recognition and celebration of the significant role Avon has played South Australia’s unfolding atomic history. His life as an activist seems to belong to the present, as the future of nuclear science and technology is considered anew.

Text from the Jessie Boylan website (with permission)

 

Boylan is a photomedia artist who explores issues relating to human impacts on the land and communities in relation to environmental and social devastation – nuclear testing, mining and war. Through her work Boylan’s has expressed ideas of history and place in relation to contemporary Australian identity, community and activism. She recently completed her MFA on the topic of photography, the campsite and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia.

Jessie Boylan is a key member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age. She won first place in Images of Justice at Adelaide University 2015 and has been a finalist for the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award in 2007, 2009 & 2012, the Spirit of Youth Award in 2009, the Head On Alternative Portrait Awards, ACP, Sydney in 2009 & 2010. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Craig McDonald. 'Maralinga Test Dummy' 2010

 

 

Hugh Ramage. 'Taranaki' 2014

 

Hugh Ramage (b. New Zealand 1958, emigrated to Sydney in 1978)
Taranaki
2014
Oil on canvas
42 x 37 cm
© Hugh Ramage

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area

 

Taranaki test site-and cleanup-area
(image source: Google Earth)

 

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown
Pitjantjatjara artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown talks about his country and the effects the atomic tests had on it

 

Jonathan Brown was removed from his parents at Ooldea and grew up with foster parents in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and learnt about the atomic tests, the removal of his people from their traditional lands and the destruction of country. Jonathan first came to recognition as artist when he worked with Lin Onus for the 1990 exhibition Balance at the Queensland Art Gallery. His later paintings were heavily influenced by the experiences of the Pitjantjatjara / Anangu which became the focus of his work. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga before the Atomic Test' 1994

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga before the Atomic Test
1994
Ochres, sand and kapok on linen
227 x 205 cm
Yarra Ranges McLeod Gift Collection

 

 

Much of the exhibition centres on the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjara Brown who was removed from his family at Ooldea Mission, located on the transcontinental railway near Watson about 250 kilometres west of Ceduna.

Three of his works feature in the exhibition, and grainy textures bring his pieces to life. One in particular, Black Rain, powerfully illustrates the destruction of country through a black sky punctured by white thick stripes of rain and cloud.

“He did it with such a great sense of power and visual impact,” says Burrinja Executive Director Ross Farnell.

“He would depict the landscape and then basically throw a whole heap of ochre, sand and glue over the top of it and then just obliterate most of the painting and then go that’s Maralinga after the test, ‘that’s what happened to my country’,” Mr Farnell told NITV News.

Extract from Nakari Thorpe. ‘Art beneath the ‘black mist’ of Maralinga’, on the NITV website 27 September 2018

 

Jonathan’s story

One of the central stories of Black Mist Burnt Country is the story of artist Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. Jonathan was removed from his parents at Ooldea mission station at very early age and grew up with in a foster family in Melbourne and Sydney. At a later stage of his life he located his parents at Yalata and went back to be reunited with them.

The return to his people was traumatic. Neither could he speak Pitjantjatjara, nor did he know he had a brother. He learned about the removal of his people from their country and the destruction of country through atomic testing.

Fabian Peel, who worked as a nurse in the community at the time and is now director of Tullawon Health Clinic in Yalata, took Jonathan around the country. He remembers: “It was very painful. Jonathan cried all the way.”

Jonathan went on to make several paintings depicting the impacts of the nuclear testing program on Anangu and the land, some of which will be included in the exhibition.

Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate
Photograph: Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga' (detail) 1992

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga (detail)
1992
Acrylic, sand and lizard skeleton on linen
Ebes Collection
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Maralinga Atomic Test Dust Storm and Old Sites Significance
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochres and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown. 'Frogmen' 1996

 

Jonathan Kumintjarra Brown (1960-1997)
Frogmen
1996
Synthetic polymer paint, natural ochre and sand on canvas
122 x 92 cm
© the artist estate

 

Kate Downhill. 'Operation Hurricane' 2013

 

Kate Downhill (b. 1955 England, emigrated to Australia 2009)
Operation Hurricane
2013
Acrylic on dress fabric laid on canvas
101 x 76 cm
© Kate Downhill

 

 

Kate studied graphic design at Newcastle-upon-Tyne College of Art and worked in London during the 1970s as an illustrator and layout artist in various publishing houses. In the 1980s she studied painting at Exeter College of Art, graduating with a BA in Fine Art and Literature and concentrated on her purely abstract paintings in the tradition of the St. Ives School of painters with whom she trained. In the mid 1990s her working style changed dramatically and abstraction became a background element in new works where a variety of figurative styles and painting techniques were used within the same image. Since then she has worked to combine both painterly and graphic imagery to narrative effect. A life-long interest in textiles, quilting and the language of stitching is also evident in her work.

Since emigrating to Australia Kate has been concentrating on a series of paintings whose theme is the fragmentary and personal nature of memory and the process of memorialisation, as with the paintings she presents in this exhibition. Here she is using the naive imagery of rural community quilting to bring together varied scraps of information and family anecdotes about the British Australian nuclear tests. Kate’s father was a seismologist for the Atomic Weapons Research Institute and he was closely involved in the development and testing of the H Bomb during the 1950s. Her work here is a deeply personal response to historical events. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

 

Kate Downhill
Kate Downhill talks about her father’s involvement in the British atomic test program as a seismologist and explains her painting’s reference to quilting.

 

Tjariya Stanley. 'Puyu - Black Mist' 2015

 

Tjariya Stanley
Puyu – Black Mist
2015
Acrylic on canvas
© Margo Birnberg and the artist

 

Hilda Moodoo and Jeffrey Quema. 'Destruction II' 2002

 

Hilda Moodoo (b. 1952) and Jeffrey Quema (1947-2009)
Destruction II
2002
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
101 x 122 cm
Santos Fund for Aboriginal Art 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

Hilda Moodoo painting began at Oak Valley in December 2001 when Victorian Yorta Yorta artist Lance Atkinson spent two months in the community teaching the technical skills for painting on canvas. Hilda Moodoo and Kunmanara Queama’s collaborative paintings Destruction I and II were included in the resulting Desert Oaks exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre in March 2002 and are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Desert Oaks project was a deliberate expression of identity and an opportunity to pass on knowledge through painting. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

Queama, a Pitjantjatjara man, was born at Ooldea, on the eastern edge of the Nullabor Plain. With the dispersal of residents after the closure of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1952, he was sent to the Lutheran mission school at Koonibba, near Ceduna. He worked for many years on land conservation and management boards, and lobbied tirelessly for the return of the Maralinga-Tjarutja lands to the traditional owners. In 1984 the lands were been returned, and he and his wife Hilda Moodoo among others founded Oak Valley community, 150 kilometres northwest of Maralinga. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Arthur Boyd. 'Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City' 1976

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Jonah on the Shoalhaven Outside the City
1976
Oil on canvas
Bundanon Trust Collection
© Bundanon Trust

 

 

In Arthur Boyd’s Jonah on the Shoalhaven – Outside the City (1976), the iconic cloud sits on the horizon, almost like a puff of dust rising off the white sand. Boyd had been conscripted into the army and became a pacifist. For him, the threat of nuclear destruction sits in the backdrop, no less menacing than Nolan’s apocalyptic response two decades earlier. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Sidney Nolan. 'Central Desert Atomic Test' 1952-57

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Central Desert Atomic Test
1952-57
Oil on canvas

 

 

Nolan’s landscape sits harsh and red under a blue sky and the mushroom cloud of the bomb. Nolan was living in London at the time but news of the tests started appearing in the media. The cloud and dust were added to one of Nolan’s desert paintings as an act of protest over the events taken place back in Australia and the addition turns a rugged landscape into an image that seethes with anger at the act of destruction. In Nolan’s landscape, the bomb looms large. (Larissa Behrendt on the Artlink website)

 

Toni Robertson. 'The Royal Nuclear Show - 6' 1981

 

Toni Robertson (b. 1953)
The Royal Nuclear Show – 6
1981
Screen print on paper (set of 6 screenprints)
Prints, screenprints, printed in colour inks, each from four hand-cut and three photo-stencils
Flinders University Art Museum Collection
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

Toni Robertson studied fine arts at the University of Sydney in the 1970s and was a founding member of the influential Earthworks Poster Collective (1971-80) at the University’s Tin Sheds. Robertson’s work has appeared in many group exhibitions in the 1970s and 1980s, and along with Chips Mackinolty and others she is recognised as a leading figure in Australian political printmaking. Her work is held in many public collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney as well as tertiary, state library and union collections. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty. 'Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?' 1977

 

Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty
Toni Robertson
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | born 1953
Chips Mackinolty
Morwell, Victoria, Australia | born 1954
Earthworks Poster Collective
commenced 1971 – 1980 | poster design studio (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Nuclear War?
1977
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 73.4 h x 48.2 w cm
Sheet 76.2 h x 50.7 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Given in memory of Mitch Johnson 1988
© Toni Robertson

 

 

The political poster movement in Australia was at its height in the 1970s, supporting anti-war, anti-uranium, pro-land rights and pro-feminist causes. Members of the Earthworks Poster Collective, opposed to the egotism of individual artistic fame, worked from the Tin Sheds (University of Sydney Art Workshop). In Daddy what did you do in the nuclear war? Toni Robertson and Chips Mackinolty appropriated a British recruiting poster from the First World War, adapting the children’s bodies to reflect the genetic consequences of radiation.

Christine Dixon

 

Victorian-born artist Chips Mackinolty was involved in the campaigns against the war in Vietnam by producing protest posters. He was a key figure in the radical poster movement and was introduced to screen printing in Goulburn Street, Sydney. During the 1970s posters became an art form artists using the cheap posters as a political tool. The Earthworks Poster Collective, established in 1971, was the most active and well-known of these groups. Earthworks operated from the Sydney University Art Workshop, commonly known as the Tin Sheds, finally demolished in 2007. Mackinolty used sharp, flat colours and increasingly professional techniques to produce posters such as “For the man who said life wasn’t meant to be easy – make life impossible.” The poster is a multi-imaged send-up of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was posted up at night around Sydney, helping to politicise a generation. His work is held in major national and international institutions. (Text from the Black Mist Burnt Country website)

 

Pam Debenham. 'No nukes in the Pacific' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No nukes in the Pacific
1984
Prints, posters, screenprint, printed in colour inks, from multiple stencils
Printed image 88.0 h x 62.0 w cm
Sheet 91.0 h x 65.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, purchased 1990

Pam Debenham. 'No Nukes No Tests' 1984

 

Pam Debenham
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia | born 1955
Tin Sheds Posters
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | commenced 1984 (organisation)
Tin Sheds Art Workshop
commenced 1969 | print workshop (organisation)
No Nukes No Tests
1984
Screenprint on paper
© Pam Debenham
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Adam Norton. 'Prohibited Area' 2010

 

Adam Norton (b. 1964, England)
Prohibited Area
2010
Acrylic paint on board, wooden poles and bolts,
240 x 122x 7 cm
© Adam Norton

 

 

National Museum of Australia
Lawson Crescent
Acton Peninsula, Canberra

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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

 

 

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29
Apr
15

Review: ‘Earth Matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 3rd May 2015

 

The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15.

 

 

What’s the story!

I wish I could say that this is a marvelous, magical exhibition, that it has value in its being in the world… but I can’t. The exhibition is very disappointing, dispiriting even. If this is the current state of contemporary photographers working in the landscape in Australia, then the Earth is in deep trouble (as if we didn’t know it already).

A large part of the exhibition is given over to the work of the ND5 photographic collective. I am not going to name the photographers here since most of the exhibited work does not contain specific names (unlike this posting). The work has been culled (an appropriate word given the theme of the exhibition) from numerous bodies of work spanning the years 2010-2013. Pairs of photographs have been renamed with poetic titles such as The lie of the land and The walls of the world with seemingly scant regard for the origins and stories of the photographs from their respective series, and then cobbled together in this present form under the banal title Investigations (2010-13). This process pays no heed to the original conceptualisation of each series and the concerns of the collective at that time they were made and here this produces a display that has little rhyme or reason. Text quotations (see below) try to remedy the situation to little avail.

Further, if you think of those lush coffee table books – “Australia from the air” or “The wonders of the Great Barrier Reef” then you get the picture. Technically, the work is superb but aesthetically and emotionally these images are invariably dead (perhaps that is the irony – I looked for irony but it was sadly lacking). The collective say that they are fascinated – in the broadest sense – by places and opposites:
.

“We are fascinated in the broadest sense by places like the Pilbara, including our ignorance and insensitivity to them. We are not ‘in the Pilbara’ in the way that scientists collect and identify it. Rather, we are collecting what can’t be seen; evidence of our uncertainty, interaction, wanderings and pondering…

We were drawn to its boundaries and edges; between solid and liquid, weight and weightlessness, hot and cool, dry and wet, between ourselves and the rest of the world, and that line of habitation that encrusts, indeed misrepresents our nation … The problem is how we index, moralise and politicise land use, rather than appropriating or projecting country as an aesthetic object.”

ND5. “The Pilbara Project – Photographers’ Cut” 2011

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Firstly, the opposites thing is such an easy way out; and secondly, as Isobel Crombie notes in the quotation at the top of the posting, any artist’s view of the landscape is always a mediated view of nature. Through their lurid, hyperreal photographs of the land these photographs do exactly what this collective said they didn’t want to do… appropriate and project country as an aesthetic object. Here the pastiche is the real.

The group also seems to want to have AGENCY in both its meanings – as in photographic agency (a business or organization providing a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group); or an action or intervention producing a particular effect. What the collective is doing, in the broadest sense (for that is what they are working with), is creating an ideology of the landscape. And it’s not an ideology that I buy into.

You could propose that a couple of the photographs build an argument around the conceit / concept of the sublime – to question whether it can be undermined through irony (the impression of multiple light sources in Stirling Ranges, 2013, below), or to question whether it actually belongs on the surface of the earth (the dust-storm, In my Garden, 2012, below), where it can only be viewed as if the lens is detached from the surface of the earth. But this is drawing a long bow when these are viewed in the context of the rest of the work.

It is worth quoting Joan Fontcuberta extensively here for he, much more eloquently than I, names this work for what it is:
.

“Arthus-Bertrand is a highly experienced and highly regarded professional who has taken more than 100,000 aerial shots, covering almost the entire surface of the globe [author of Earth from Above – “as magnificent a coffee-table book as you could hope to find, whose successive reprints have sold in astronomical numbers”]. There is no doubt as to the quality of his work, on the contrary, we can only celebrate the fact that he and his team at the specialised agency Altitude continue to be so prolific and so creative. But his popular and commercial impact and the eagerness of the cultural institutions to clasp him to their bosoms prompt reflections that go to the very heart of documentary photography and its current crisis.

When paparazzi and the celebrity/human interest-genre reign supreme, serious photo reportage gives way to mere illustration, to the aestheticisation of the world and the masking of conflicts rendered insignificant by distance. Something is wrong when readers can say, ‘How picturesque the favelas are, with those bright colours! What wonderful colours these polluted rivers have!’ Bretch said photographic realism bounces of the façade of things: a photo of the Krupp factories shows us smokestacks and sheds, but tells us nothing about the relations of exploitation inside them. What was needed to refute him were photographers with the talent and the guts to demonstrate that it was a matter of critical sense and eloquence, that photography was a language which really could penetrate the camouflaging surfaces of the real.”

Joan Fontcuberta. “Cosmic Palimpsests,” in Joan Fontcuberta. Pandora’s Camera: Photogr@phy after Photography. Mack, 2014, pp. 156-157.

 

That photography was a language which really could penetrate the camouflaging surfaces of the real. In this case the wonderful, hyperreal, saturated colours of the polluted rivers – that really hits the nail on the head.

If, as the collective says, “they want to examine its particular confluxes of culture, industry, environment and history in order to begin to craft a stronger vision for its future” (The Pilbara Project – 2010) then they need to be more concerned about what is present in the landscape, what is present in the community not from several emotional steps removed. You only have to look at the work of Edward Burtynsky and his Australian Minescape series to understand that in his series the photographs are all made in a way, and with a concern that goes beyond technical competence and cinematic craft – something that can rarely be said of the work presented by ND5.

Personally, I believe one of the main reasons for being an artist is to seek to redefine the sets of opposites that we find, to excavate… to pull away the mundane description of things. And in my opinion, if you really LOOK AT THIS WORK – and that’s seems to be a simple thing to ask an artist to do, to really look at their own work – then you have to ask yourself ‘Why would I want to look at this?’ There is no story, no pulling away of the veil, for these are boring images cloaked, as Fontcuberta says, in the colours of polluted rivers, in the camouflaging surfaces of the hyperreal. Perhaps these contemporary “picturesque” images are the modern form of the end of Pictorialism?

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The lack of a story continues to haunt the rest of the exhibition as well. If we address the title Earth Matters in both its forms – that Earth really does matter to us; and that Earth matters (as in we are all made up of atoms and that matter commonly exists in four states (or phases): solid, liquid and gas, and plasma) then the work can relate to the body, place, landscape, etc… what an opportunity!

The usually reliable Rosemary Laing provides a dirge-like image that took me nowhere. Siri Hayes supplies a wonderful, ironic image (Wanderer in a sea of images 2013, below) with chopped down trees in a grand vista, a person taking a photograph of a person taking a photograph with belching power stations in the background – and then prints it at a massive scale which over stretches the boundaries of the technical possibilities of the negative. At a distance it just about holds up, but as can be seen from the closeup below (click on it for the large version) the image is blurred and distorted when printed at this huge scale. Photographs have a correct proportion to their significance as an image which is completely destroyed here.

David Tatnall exposes black and white pinhole images of the landscape which really didn’t do much for me, especially with an extraneous blurred human figure that really meant very little in the context of the images, while Harry Nankin’s work fails to convince. His creatures crawling over photo-senstised plates of glass and then displayed on a light box left me cold – and yet another artist where you had to look up the meaning of the title / word ekkyklêma to try and understand the story being told. Christian Bumbarra Thompson supplies an image that means nothing to the uninitiated (another story that can only be guessed at – there is no text to explain), while Anne Ferran’s beautiful, luminous ink-jet print’s on aluminium, Untitled (2008) are just that – beautiful and luminous – unless you know the backstory which is nowhere explained in the gallery. (The photographs are “more than a decade’s exploration of a piece of ground on the outskirts of the small village of Ross in central Tasmania. Today little remains of its past as a female convict prison, apart from some mounds of earth and scattered stones. Her photographs and video works about this site reflect the ongoing difficulty of grasping and making sense of a ruined and fragmented past.”)

And last but not least, to the star of the show: Silvi Glattauer’s series Sanctuary (2014, below). OMG, these are gorgeous!

Beautiful photogravure prints on cotton paper give a wonderful soft tonality to these alien environments. The worlds are like liquid mercury. I did a double take trying to work out what they were for quite a few seconds before I got it. Beautifully composed, quiet, sensitive and eloquent these are everything that so much of the rest of the show isn’t. The story is in the macrocosm and the microcosm, the world at our fingertips that we never see, that we are forever destroying. Not the broadest of brush strokes picturesque but getting in and getting your hands dirty, paradoxically revealing cosmic worlds that we usually only dream of. Finally a story worth photographing: some matter that really does matter.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Monash Gallery of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Christian Bumbarra Thompson. 'I'm not going anywhere without you' 2009

 

Christian Bumbarra Thompson
Bidjara man of the Kunja Nation
I’m not going anywhere without you
2009
from the series Lost together
Chromogenic print
100.0 x 99.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist

 

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977) 'Wanderer in a sea of images' 2013

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977)
Wanderer in a sea of images
2013
Ink-jet print on polyester
220.0 x 280.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Siri Hayes’s exquisitely detailed photographs depict picturesque landscapes but landscapes that are also disturbed, perhaps devastated by fire, littered with debris, or cleared of their native vegetation for plantation timber. By using the conventions of classical landscape painting to photograph the contemporary landscape, Hayes draws our attention to environmental themes in this unique, large-scale installation.

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977) 'Wanderer in a sea of images' 2013 (detail)

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977)
Wanderer in a sea of images (detail)
2013
Ink-jet print on polyester
220.0 x 280.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974) 'Sanctuary' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer. 'Sanctuary I' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary I
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer. 'Sanctuary VI' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary VI 
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Swanfires, Chris's shed' 2002–04

 

Rosemary Laing
Swanfires, Chris’s shed
2002-04
Chromogenic print
110.0 x 235.5
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2011
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of Earth Matters at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Minds in the cave / fragment 2' 2014

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953)
Minds in the cave / fragment 2
2014
Pigment ink-jet prints on cotton pape
Collection of the artist

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953)
Ekkyklema #1 (installation photographs)
2014
Gelatin silver chemogram films on starfire glass [on lightbox]
0.5 x 14.0 x 14.0 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist
Collection of the artist
Note: 112 plein air silver gelatin shadowgram and chemogram films on starfire glass panes

 

 

An ekkyklêma (“roll-out machine”) was a wheeled platform rolled out through a skênê in ancient Greek theatre. It was used to bring interior scenes out into the sight of the audience. Some ancient sources suggest that it may have been revolved or turned.

It is mainly used in tragedies for revealing dead bodies, such as Hippolytus’ dying body in the final scene of Euripides’ play of the same name, or the corpse of Eurydice draped over the household altar in Sophocles’ Antigone. Other uses include the revelation in Sophocles’ Ajax of Ajax surrounded by the sheep he killed whilst under the delusion that they were Greeks. The ekkyklêma is also used in comedy to parody the tragic effect. An example of this is in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae when Agathon, portrayed as an effeminate, is wheeled onstage on an ekkyklêma to enhance the comic absurdity of the scene. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008

 

Anne Ferran
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
2 ink-jet print on aluminium
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with assistance from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008

 

Anne Ferran
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
2 ink-jet print on aluminium
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with assistance from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Intellectually and emotionally engaging, sometimes austere, her [Ferran’s] photographs have explored histories of incarceration in prisons, asylums, hospitals and nurseries. They play with invisibility and anonymity, and are often haunted by things lost or unseen. Lost to Worlds 2008 was the culmination of more than a decade’s exploration of a piece of ground on the outskirts of the small village of Ross in central Tasmania. Today little remains of its past as a female convict prison, apart from some mounds of earth and scattered stones. Her photographs and video works about this site reflect the ongoing difficulty of grasping and making sense of a ruined and fragmented past.

 

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

 

Ninety Degrees Five
Earth matters (installation stills)
2015
Multimedia, 10.13 minutes
Filmed and edited: Michael Fletcher
Score: Jo Quail-Sonver Collection of the artists

 

 

Earth matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape is an exhibition developed by MGA for ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE; a Melbourne-wide arts festival exploring climate change and environmental ethics. MGA’s contribution to this festival highlights the ecological sensitivity of contemporary Australian photographers. Moving away from the detached ‘picturesque’ views of nature, so prevalent in the history of photography, these artists engage with the earth in immersive and connected ways.

Siri Hayes and Christian Thompson wander into epic vistas to enact comical self-portraits that capture the capricious nature of human presence on this planet. Silvi Glattauer peers into the interiors of bromeliad plants to find fecund microcosms that bubble with humble but hopeful vitality. Rosemary Laing pays tribute to ecological tragedy with a monumental photograph of bushfire devastation, while Anne Ferran ruminates over the tragic scars of colonial history in the landscape. David Tatnall’s eerie photographs have been produced with a rudimentary pinhole camera, embed in the environment to bear witness to the earth’s passing. Harry Nankin does away with the camera and its singular perspective altogether, using raw photographic film to record ecological forces in nocturnal landscapes.

Earth matters features a new installation by the Ninety Degrees Five collective alongside the work of other contemporary landscape photographers including Anne Ferran, Silvi Glattauer, Siri Hayes, Harry Nankin, David Tatnall and Christian Thompson. Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a collective of five Australian artists established in 2010, featuring Peter Eastway, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher, Tony Hewitt & Les Walkling.

Text from the MGA website

 

Installation view of various Ninety Degrees Five 'Investigations' 2010-13 at the exhibition 'Earth Matters', Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ninety Degrees Five Investigations 2010-13 at the exhibition Earth Matters, Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

 

Ninety Degrees Five
The lie of the land
(Christian Fletcher, left; Les Walkling, right)
2012-13
From the series Investigations 2010-13
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artists

 

 

Christian Fletcher
From the series South West Light
2012
Pigment ink-jet print (detail)

 

Ninety Degrees Five. 'The walls of the world' 2012-13

 

Ninety Degrees Five
The walls of the world
(Tony Hewitt, left; Peter Eastway, right)
2012-13
From the series Investigations 2010-13
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artists

 

Tony Hewitt From the series 'Shark Bay Inscription' 2013

 

Tony Hewitt
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
2013
Pigment ink-jet print (detail)

 

 

About Ninety Degrees Five

“Our work … seeks to encourage and reinforce public concern for the fate of the earth, and our responsibility to act on that awareness.”

Les Walkling

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Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a unique collaboration of four photographers, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway, Tony Hewitt, Les Walkling and film maker Michael Fletcher.

ND5 initially came together for The Pilbara Project in 2010. The Pilbara Project was developed and produced by FORM, an independent, non-profit cultural organisation in Western Australia. Curated by William L. Fox, the Director of the Center for Art and Environment of the Nevada Museum of Art, and Mollie Hewitt (FORM), the collaboration resulted in the book, The Pilbara Project: Field Notes and Photographs Collected over 2010, and the first Pilbara Project exhibition: 52 Weeks On, in February 2011.

Subsequent ND5 projects, South West Light 2011, Shark Bay – Inscription 2012, EAST 2013 and NORTH 2014 consolidated the collective’s independence and artistic agenda. The result has been ten exhibitions on three continents since 2011. Each exhibition is supported by public performances and events, including broadcast media, workshops, master classes, and artist talks.

Investigations 2010-2013 is ND5’s latest installation that remixes works from the first three ND5 projects (The Pilbara Project, South West Light, and Shark Bay – Inscription) to highlight their transcending artistic projections and cultural concerns. In this sense ND5’s projects are a primary research model for their ongoing Investigations, and thereby demonstrate an engaging, enquiring, and speculative process, not just its resolved and published outcome. This is important because ND5 has also become a case study in what can happen when a group forms from diverse but supportive individuals who are secure enough in their own practice to experiment with it.

This model privileges something of the urgency and necessity surrounding our worryingly fragile relationship to land and landscape, place and belonging, rights and duties, environmental crisis and environmental justice, sovereignty and reconciliation, trust and despair.

Investigations 2010-2013 also extends ND5’s collaborative endeavour through the acknowledgement, quotation and incorporation of other voices no less concerned with such matters, and thereby seeks to promote this conversation beyond individuals and collectives.

ND5

 

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

 

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series Investigations 2010-13

 

Christian Fletcher. 'Stirling Ranges' 2013

 

Christian Fletcher
Stirling Ranges
2013
From the series South West Light
965mm x 2165mm

 

Tony Hewittt. 'Red Coast' 2014

 

Tony Hewittt
Red Coast
2014
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
965mm x 965mm

 

Peter Eastway. 'South of Faure Island' 2014

 

Peter Eastway
South of Faure Island
2014
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
965mm x 965mm

 

Les Walkling. 'In my Garden' 2012

 

Les Walkling
In my Garden
2012
From the series The Pilbara Project
965mm x 965mm

 

 

 

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Victoria 3150 Australia
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27
Apr
14

Review: ‘The Paper’ by Rosemary Laing at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 5th April 2014 – 3rd May 2014

 

I always look forward to new work by the incomparable Rosemary Laing with great anticipation. I have never been disappointed. This magnificent group of five images is no exception, one of the photographic highlights so far this year in Melbourne.

These large, Type-C analogue landscape format photographs feature decomposing newspapers literally (being words) carpeting the forest floor. These site-specific interventions feature no digital manipulation and, as the erudite catalogue essay by George Alexander observes below, investigate the replacement of our daily newspaper by online information bytes, “the graphic graphic newsprint breaking down like typographic stew,”  the “transmigration of matter from one form to another,” “a meditation on time,” recycling, deforestation, information overload. These concepts build on earlier fragments from work by the artist (such as groundspeed2001) into something transformational, transnational and, even, otherworldly.

These entropic panoramas, which hang mysteriously between words and worlds, are indeed meditations on time and space. As Annette Hughes states,

“Laing’s pictorial space, like that of cinema, is generally art-directed, constructed, rehearsed, performed and shot in physical time and space, and though it could easily be Photoshopped these days, that’s not the point. The art object is only the end product of the making of these images. Being able to see the many human hours devoted to their execution is also a way of building duration back into the photograph.”1

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Here’s my tuppence worth on Laing’s new work.

This suite of photographs has a panoramic immersiveness. The viewer feels as though time has stood still when looking at these photographs, where the newspapers are analogous to snow upon the ground, imparting something of a dream-like existence to the images. There is a talismanic quality to the images, like a standing stone circle that is believed to have magic powers and cause good things to happen. And they are full of symbols, such as arrows, to mark the way (see The Paper, Wednesday, earlier, 2013, below).

These are not unquiet images, suspended midway between fantasy and reality, but (un)quiet images – a subtle but pivotal difference. They possess the quietness of the forest but also the isolation and loneliness. They are based on a harmonic instability, like a minor chord at the beginning of a Beethoven symphony, which is then eventually resolved in the major. These images are the journey of that resolution. The words, the flesh of the textural body, has been pulped: that immersive instability of the fecund body laying down in the soil of mother earth.

The viewer is disorientated. We have no idea where we are, the paper (the word and world) creating for the body this foggy, dream-like atmosphere. As in all of Laing’s work, there is an inquiring instability here, one that seeks the resolution of stability through the love of the human body and of our existence. I stand still before them.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Hughes, Annette. “ABIGAIL SOLOMON-GODEAU Rosemary Laing,” Review on The Newtown Review of Books website 3th July 2012 [Online] Cited 27th April 2014

Many thankx to Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Monday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Monday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 214 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Tuesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Tuesday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 209 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Wednesday, earlier' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Wednesday, earlier
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 203 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Rosemary Laing

The Paper

A forest is carpeted with truckloads of newspapers. A cacophony of printed voices layers the soil horizon of the ground. The former surface litter of loose and partly decayed organic matter is overlaid with pulped tree product. The 21st century cultural carpet of current events and mercenary babble is already time-lined by weathering, which is fast-tracking the decomposition of the worded pages. The graphic of newsprint is breaking down like typographic stew, falling apart like old lacework, dissolving like paint – it’s losing its imprint as fallen branches and leaves scatter over it. It seems to expect that over time it will disappear beneath what comes after, what fresh coats some future century will lay over it.

For this undertaking, Rosemary Laing located her activity among the woodlands of Bundanon, a casuarina forest peppered with eucalyptus and Burrawang. Located in the Shoalhaven of southern New South Wales, the site was originally the land of the Wodi Wodi people of the Yuin nation. Layered with subsequent occupations since the early 19th century, in 1993 the properties were gifted by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd and became the Bundanon Trust – a place for artists of all disciplines to work and a place for all people to draw inspiration.

Two unique opportunities here were made possible by the Trust to Rosemary Laing. The opportunity to develop and consider her actions unhindered by a time frame; together with access to the Bundanon collection of the influential gnarled ceramics that Arthur’s father Merric Boyd (1888-1959) made with their blue and green underglazes and swaying lines of treescapes on clay.

As it happened, while making this work, the place was inundated with floodwaters. Natural disaster has often enclosed her work, as in swanfires (2002-04), with its incinerated sheds and buildings, following bushfires in the Sussex Inlet area – also part of the Shoalhaven. Destruction sculpts and re-sculpts the world, and Laing joins the material cycle, the perpetual transmigration of matter from one form to another. A “terrible beauty”, as a friend remarked.

This series is called The Paper, for the daily newspaper – our long time companion and a primary fix for information of the world – that is swiftly being superseded by the new material technologies of our times. If the overwhelming flood of data and culture and spin is hitting us with some 500,000 discrete bits of information at any time, then we may be faced with inabilities to absorb that Total Noise. We probably missed the 25 bits that were important. The latest innovations of the Infosphere replay confections of overstimulation and boredom, sugar-hits of overload followed by emotional numbness.

Yet the covering of the ground that we saw in 2001 with groundspeed – not far geographically from this site – isn’t the same as here in the series The Paper. The point of loungeroom carpets in groundspeed was as an index of the latecomer’s sense of belonging. A kind of comfort zone for the non-indigenous, bridging old world and new. The carpeting this time – as she writes in her notes – “seems to be composting the present as a past about to happen; taking a once-upon- a-time not-that-long-ago standard as the ground-amendment-of- tomorrow already.” It is, among other things, a meditation on time.

Every new presentation of Laing’s work is also a running commentary on her previous corpus of work. The Paper explores themes touched upon in – Natural Disasters (1988), groundspeed (2001) with its patterned loungeroom carpets out in the ‘wild’ and in 2006, weather with its cyclone of newspaper shreds – while constantly replenishing what had remained surplus to that work. And this compost of earlier fragments, that are dismembered and scattered and gathered again, expands her material formation on this site.

From top to bottom the planet is being transfigured. Something essential is changing now and forever. The “global” has become everyone’s “local”. The human race is going through things it has never experienced before – as we are forced to join the caravan of this moment in time.

Hellish or heavenly? Promised Land or Wasteland? Take your pick. You do get the sense – with the dramatic shiny green of the ancient Burrrawang palms scattered about – of human impermanence against the bedrock temporal dimensions of the primitive Gondawan rainforest margins. As anyone who has spent time slogging through genuine bushland, and sensing the century’s long pulse of trees: we’ve fallen out of tune with the eternal present of the animal world, we’ve fallen into Time with its past and future, the chopped-up time of daily newspapers.

Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones … wrote Shakespeare (As You Like It, 2.1). The quote recalls the medieval idea of the Book of Nature that we are here to read, whose infinite pages unfold enormous landscapes: some see good, some evil, some both, some neither. Laing’s art takes root in a fissure, in that crack in the covenant between word and world, and the historical moment is right: we are in the age of the “trans-book” with the rise of the Kindle and iGoogle, and with it the end of newspapers, the demise of print and the retrenchment of journalists.

So as you enter the space, walk around the room with the suite of images – named for the days of the week – there’s an entropic feel with their grubby matte and muted beauty. Underfoot, things fall apart, the riggings of the page disintegrate into tissue, print naturalizes into leaf mould, and words on paper are composted back into wood pulp and waste slurry. Accordingly, to make the images this time around, she put her dalliances with digital cameras and print-output machines aside, in favour of analogue, for all the lovely limitations and imperfections of light on cellulose triacetate, and the physical shadings of Laing’s printer in the darkroom.

The curving earth is a body, and these lacework landscapes show off the marks of aging. The woods are a damp chamber, with a thick carpet of newspapers, and many doors open to the wind and faraway light. The images enclose you in brushwork of soft jade while the soggy colours of disintegration make time tangible.

There’s nothing said about the world here (recycling, deforestation, information overload) that you couldn’t find more reliably elsewhere. It’s rather Laing’s process of invention, through the hinterlands of her material imagination, that communicates her unexpected vision, tells her story of an imagined afterwards of along-the-way. There’s a stand of trees in these pictures still growing inside the shellacking and composting of our times.

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George Alexander
September 2013

Published with permission

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Wednesday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Wednesday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 197.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Thursday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Thursday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 207 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Friday' 2013

 

Rosemary Laing
The Paper, Friday
2013
C Type photograph
110 x 196.3 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

 

Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
T: 61 3 9654 6000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 10 am – 5 pm
Sat 1 pm – 5 pm

Tolarno Galleries website

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31
Oct
12

Text: Minkowski retentir / Photos: Rosemary Laing ‘groundspeed’ series

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“If, having fixed the original form in our mind’s eye, we ask ourselves how that form comes alive and fills with life, we discover a new dynamic and vital category, a new property of the universe: reverberation (retentir). It is as though a well-spring existed in a sealed vase and its waves, repeatedly echoing against the sides of this vase, filled it with their sonority. Or again, it’s as though the sound of a hunting horn, reverberating everywhere through its echo, made the tiniest leaf, the tiniest wisp of moss shudder in a common movement and transformed the whole forest, filling it to its limits, into a vibrating, sonorous world.”

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Eugene Minkowski Vers une Cosmologie (translated by Maria Jolas) quoted on Michael Ormerod. “Minkowski’s Reverberating Forest,” on the The Spirit of the Mass blog 23rd April 2012 [Online] Cited 24th October 2012

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Rosemary Liang
groundspeed (Red Piazza) #04
2001
C-Print
110 x 219 cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program
© Rosemary Laing

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Rosemary Liang
groundspeed (Red Piazza) #05
2001
C-Print
106 x 163 cm
Courtesy the artist; DZ Bank Kunstsammlung
© Rosemary Laing; Galerie CONRADS, Düsseldorf

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“The Australian artist Rosemary Laing moves between different genres in her work, drawing upon installation, performance and photography at the same time. The groundspeed series is the result of a sort of “field trip” to the eucalyptus forests of southern Australia. Together with a team of assistants, Laing produced a series of images of landscapes in which reality and fiction combine through the insertion of ordinary industrially produced carpets in practically unspoilt natural settings. Her work thus weds the open landscape of the image in the background with an element in the foreground that instead recalls an interior, an inhabited human environment. But where is the reality or where is the fiction? Are we sure we can believe in the reality of pure and idyllic nature?

The artist’s working method is comparable to filmmaking. A team of professionals goes to the selected location and creates a set that meets all of the artist’s requirements and is therefore ready to be photographed. This procedure enables Laing to achieve results that would be impossible through digital manipulation of the images alone. The flower-patterned carpets Laing uses belong to a European tradition that was very popular and widespread in Australia when she was young. She thus “grafts” a piece of European culture onto the Australian landscape. She intervenes in nature and alters it. Reverberating in her works is an explicit criticism of the appropriation of the Australian continent by European colonizers, a process underway for at least 200 years. In the light of these considerations, Laing’s apparently idyllic and fantastic images suddenly take on a bitter and dramatic aftertaste. The artistic representation thus succeeds in arriving at a higher level of truth than that of the concrete visual reality it uses.”

Text from the Manipulating Reality: How Images Redefine the World website

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“groundspeed (Red Piazza) #4 is from the series groundspeed, in which patterned Feltex carpet is laid on the forest floor or on the edge of a rocky coastal setting. This particular image uses retro Red Piazza carpet in the forest at the George Boyd Lookout in southern New South Wales. The carpet is obviously incongruous to the forest, even though its floral pattern is inspired by nature. The lush saturated colours are typical of Laing’s work. Here, red and green – opposites on the colour spectrum – are placed in combination, heightening the tone and conceptual vigour of the union. In each photograph from the series, nature is shown as living and abundant; from the fecund, green forest to, in other images, the ferocity of waves breaking against the coast.

The title is an amalgamation of Laing’s concerns: ‘ground’ refers to land and solidity, and ‘speed’ references flight and impermanence. Placed together these terms conceptually summarise the visual considerations at work. In a reversal of accepted norms in which nature is distanced from domestic living and where nature is historically sidelined by cultural pursuits, Laing figuratively brings the inside out. In so doing groundspeed makes concrete the unstable and provocative rapport between habitation and inhabitation, stillness and movement, growth and decay. Laing’s vibrant images subsume the visual in a historical, social and cultural dialogue where the ground keeps shifting.”

Text from the Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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Max Ernst (French, born Germany, 1891-1976)
Forest and Sun
1927

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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08
Mar
11

Review: ‘Rosemary Laing: leak’ at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 19th March 2011

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You have just got to love these!

A wonderful suite of five panoramic photographs, framed in white, inhabit the beautiful space of Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne. The photographs, different angles of the same bleached bone inverted skeleton of a house that was constructed by five builders in the Australian landscape around Cooma, New South Wales (no Photoshop tricks here!) have a subdued colour palette of misty greys and greens – all except one that has a vibrant blue sky with clouds, a man with his sheep dogs and a flock of sheep. Two of the photographs are framed upside down, one photograph a closer study from the same angle.

The house on the hill is surrounded by wondrous light gently highlighting the wooden bones of the building embedded into the landscape in a context that is soon to become another suburban housing estate. The skeleton rises up (and falls into the sky) like a foundering ship amongst mysterious gum trees, surrounded by broken stumps and littered branches. The best photograph (top, below) has the effect of the bones being lit up like a giant puzzle.

Examining ‘the encroachment of suburban development and the socio-economic and environmental pressures on the Australian landscape’ these photographs, named after the characters from Patrick White’s novel The Twyborn Affair, are ecologically aware and politically astute, as well as being fine photographs. The title of the exhibition, leak, perfectly sums up the osmotic nature of the encroachment of human habitation upon the ‘natural’ environment, which is already a mediated landscape due to European farming techniques and clearance of the landscape. But this is not a one way discourse; what do we call the ‘new’ Australian bush? What if the humpy invaded suburbia and pushed back the tide?

I would love to see different types of houses in different contexts. I want to see more these are so good!

Many thankx to Jan Minchin (Director) and Tolarno Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Both images courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries © Rosemary Laing.

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Rosemary Laing
‘Jim’
2010
C Type photograph
Large image size 110 x 238 cm
Framed size 127 x 255 cm
Edition of 8

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Rosemary Laing
‘Prowse’
2010
C Type photograph
Large image size 110 x 247 cm
Framed size 127 x 264 cm
Edition of 8

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Tolarno Galleries
Level 4
104 Exhibition Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Australia
Tel: 61 3 9654 6000
Website: www.tolarnogalleries.com

Opening hours:
Tue-Fri 10 am-5 pm, Sat 1 pm-5 pm

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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