POSTMODERN FORMS: JANET LAURENCE Janet Laurence, b. 1949 Aust. In the shadow, site specific...

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Transcript of POSTMODERN FORMS: JANET LAURENCE Janet Laurence, b. 1949 Aust. In the shadow, site specific...



Janet Laurence, b. 1949 Aust. In the shadow, site specific installation Homebush Bay, 2000Laurence is a contemporary artist who works across a wide range of media including painting, photography and sculpture. She is probably best known for her site-specific installations such as In the shadow, which involves a 100 metre length of creek at Homebush Bay. It was created for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Unlike many installations, this one is now a permanent part of the landscape. The installation includes the planting of native species on the bank (casuarinas), water plants (bulrushes), scientific-looking measuring wands (height 29 m), text (numbers indicate water chemistry monitoring) and the generation of fog.

This site was originally an industrial wasteland which was worked on and improved (rehabilitated) in order to create the Olympic Park site. Laurences installation has created a new, healthy ecosystem.

The bulrushes and casuarinas have grown since 2000, and are now more prominent than the measuring wands. The fog continues to be generated. The wands are meant to represent water analysis and measurement, which is an important part of testing the health of an area. Laurences plantings have created a green corridor between two cleared and constructed environments. There are three bridges that cross the creek where people can interact with the cool misty and mysterious environment.


Laurence is very concerned with environmental issues, and all her work is involved with getting her audience to reflect upon these issues. Many of her works are actually acting to rehabilitate an area or a group of plants, whilst being artworks as well. So they have a double function: its not just something for people to look at. Its engaging with the world in a particular way, a more politically active way than say, Christo & Jeanne-Claude or Andy Goldsworthy. In the shadow, 2000, details What can we say about Laurence, considering our conceptual framework?

Considering artist / world, she is actively involved with promoting protection of the planet and endangered plants and animals. So this is the world she thinks about.

artwork / audience: she is interested in her audience becoming involved with these ideas as well.

Looking at this work using the structural frame,

we could note the strong vertical lines created by the measuring wands. What effect could this have visually? Verticals and horizontals often make things seem more still, or stable than diagonals which often seem more active.

Using the subjective frame, we could consider how it might feel to a person walking across the bridge and feeling the fog, seeing this peaceful misty little oasis. Birds and animals have now been attracted to this site where before there were none. The audience enters the artwork physically and responds with their bodies. Where have we come across this idea before? ( Minimalism; Ab Ex large scale works; Christo and Jeanne claude; de Maria Lightning Field; Robert Smithson spiral jetty; performance art.)

Still on Subjective Frame, this work stimulates our imaginations and also our memories of what the place may have looked like long ago, before white fellas.

2Laurence is also interested in memories of places and peoples, and the concept of change. We can see this in another work of hers. Edge of the Trees is an installation in collaboration with Australian artist Fiona Foley, in the forecourt of the Museum of Sydney. This consists of column structures of steel, sandstone, and timber. Edge of the trees, 1995, sandstone, wood, steel, oxides, shells, honey, bones, zinc, glass, sound, 29 pillars

The work lists names of indigenous people from the Eora tribe from the early days of white settlement. They are engraved on sandstone, upon which the Sydney harbour area is built, and which was the material for the colonial buildings.The Museum of Sydney is down near Circular Quay in Sydney. It marks the spot where the first Government House was built in 1788, for Arthur Phillip. In the forecourt of the museum is a glass panel where you can look down below the level of the current ground to see the foundations of the original Government House. So this Museum is also a memorial site, and Laurence & Foleys work links in with this. Also the building itself uses a lot of sandstone and glass, which is echoed in the installation.

3Timbers which originally grew on the Museum site were used, in early days, for buildings for the colony in Sydney. The timbers were salvaged from that building in the 1990s and re-planted back at the Museum site for this installation. They were engraved with names of fruits and flowers from the Colonial Governors Garden, in Latin and in indigenous language. Steel structures are also included, designed to rust red into the sandy ground in which they are embedded. Names of First Fleet passengers are also included, engraved on zinc panels and fastened to the poles.

Coming from within the installation are a continuous sound recording of voices. They murmur quietly, you have to struggle to catch them. They are Koori names of places which were colonised by the British. The effect is that the voices sound like ghosts.

Edge of the trees, detail. 4

There are steel and glass structures as well, which contain material such as rock oxides, bone, shells and ash, which would have been from the indigenous campsites around the area. The structure is reminiscent of burial poles, where the bones of a deceased person are, after the flesh is gone, put into the pole as the final part of a funeral ceremony.


Veil of Trees, 1999 Sydney. (In collaboration with Jisuk Han.)This installation is near the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. It comprises 100 red forest gums, 21 glass panels laminated and enclosing seeds and ash with Australian poetry, and corten-steel panels containing LED lighting so it can be seen at night.

As with Edge of Trees, you can walk through and around this installation, and through the trees. Its just like some parkland but its quite beautiful with the sunlight playing through the veils of the trees. The installation is in the place where a large stand of red gums were demolished by Colonial settlers. 6Laurence also often uses glass in her work. Glass is clear. Its usually deliberately placed in front of an artwork or valuable display. Its designed as a barrier to protect something precious. Or its used as a window, a portal between inside and outside. Either way, its designed with the viewer in mind. A viewer is imagined.

However its not as simple as that: glass can also reflect. There can be a sense of confusion of imageryis what Im seeing actually inside, or a reflection of what is behind me? Laurence has played with this confusion in her works. It is a postmodern idea, this deliberate confusion of where the art is vs. where the world is. It is a challenge to the idea of the art object. She also likes to blur the boundary between nature and man-made structure.

The glass is clear in places, semi-transparent in others. The trees are reflected in the panels, and you are standing among the trees while you read the panels. Again, the audience is physically immersed within the artwork.

Standing there, reading the poetry, you have a strong sense of human ideas standing in a forest. Its like the panels represent people in the forest.

7The artist has sought to create a place of healing. Once again, her installations perform a double role: artwork, and rehabilitation space.

Waiting: a medicinal garden for ailing plants, site-specific installation in Sydney Botanic Gardens for Biennale of Sydney 2010

What does the title of this work imply for us?

This piece was created specifically for the 2010 Biennale a 3 month long art festival held every 2 years, showing both Australian and International art, based in Sydney.

Unlike In the shadow at the Homebush Bay Olympic site, this is a temporary installation, just for the season of the Biennale. It comprises a structure which has semi-transparent walls. Inside are plants of all kind - healthy, sick and dead. We can enter the structure and walk through, looking at the plants in different boxed-in sections.8Various Australian native plants were selected, and housed within this white structure. The separation into different sections is somewhat reminiscent of a museum display, or even like wards in a hospital. (The title phrase ailing plants gives us a clue about the concerns of the work. ) There is a maternity / fertility section which houses various seeds; an intensive care unit for plants that are seriously ill; and a mortuary section which houses dead plants.

All the living plants are connectedby tubes, and water is pumped through to them using a solar-powered pump. They are mostly in glass vials or containers of some sort. The room is filled with light.The structure is reminiscent of a glasshouse or greenhouse. These structures were historically located in the gardens of wealthy people, at a time when such structures were very expensive to build. They could sometimes be enormous. The idea was to have a structure full of light, which would protect foreign and delicate plants (including oranges) from the cold weather and wind of England. (The idea is 2000 years old, although mica instead of proper glass was used originally.)

Today we have small greenhouses in back yards. The idea behind the tra