Throughout a long career Rosemary Laing has created elegant, conceptual photographs that explore cultural and historical notions of place. The TarraWarra Museum of Art is presenting a solo exhibition of her work (consisting of 28 large-scale works spanning a 30-year period) focusing on Australia’s complex relationship to land. The exhibition is the first major presentation of Laing’s work to be held in Victoria.
“One of the themes that we’ve been working with at TarraWarra over the last five years is the interchange between art, place, and ideas,” says curator Victoria Lynn. “Laing is a leading figure in Australian art when it comes to thinking through the landscape and how we occupy it.”
Laing has spent time researching the history of land and the notion of landscapes at length, and through multiple angles. This has included film, literature, and painting, and the belief systems of Indigenous people. “Laing asks us to think through our own relationship to these bodies of knowledge and our sense of belonging and displacement in these landscapes,” says Lynn.
This has included papering the floor of a forest and inserting architectural structures into open countryside, to name a few.
Discussing Laing’s recent Buddens series of photographs, which are set on the south coast of New South Wales, Lynn explains that the artist collected 100 pieces of discarded clothing that she rolled and sorted into colours. They were placed in a dry riverbed that leads to Wreck Bay, where many shipwrecks occurred during the colonial period. “There’s an intermingling of histories which are Indigenous, colonial, and ecological,” says Lynn. “Laing researches the areas where she works quite thoroughly and some of those shipwrecks were engaged with transport and colonial trade. The Indigenous people of the area refer to the bay in different terms; a place that is plentiful in fish. Recently that part of the coast has seen the demise of the fishing industry. There’s also a history of Indigenous whaling. And of course there are also great storms and fires in the region.”
Alongside Laing’s exhibition will be an exhibition featuring a suite of paintings by Fred Williams and has been curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick. “The museum has an exemplary collection of Modern art,” says Lynn. “And one of the themes that we try to explore at TarraWarra is looking at the past through the filter of the present. Not to say that one is similar to the other, but to see how one wrestles with the other. And as different as the Laing and Williams are, they both are absolutely obsessed and immersed in all facets of the Australian terrain.”