Posts Tagged ‘Swanfires Chris’s shed

09
Feb
18

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

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

Curator: Victoria Lynn

 

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

 

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

 

 

Disjunction and displacement in the Australian landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Art Talk with Rosemary Laing

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the TarraWarra Museum of Art

 

Rosemary Laing. 'brumby mound #6' 2003

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rosemary Laing. 'The Paper, Tuesday' 2013

 

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

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Aristide' 2010

 

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

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Walter Hood' 2017

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Drapery and wattle' 2017

 

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

 

 

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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:
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“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?

.
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

.
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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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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