Taking the Barrier Reef to Paris
Janet Laurence, an Abbotsleigh Old Girl (1963) is not an artist easily categorised; her work skirts the boundaries of art, science, architecture, nature, the imagined world, history and memory. Today, Janet is best known for her site-specific installations and she has been referred to as the ‘architects’ artist’. She has always been interested in how art works in a given space and in ‘how art could contribute to the definition of a space and make the viewer participate holistically within that space’. A case in point is her 1991 commission for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canberra. The piece consists of four pillars in different natural and man-made materials: glass, marble, wood and metal, soaring toward the golden dome of the Hall of Memory. Its purpose is to invoke memories, both private and public; something that Janet aspires to do through most of her works.
Closer to home is her Edge of the Trees installation outside the Museum of Sydney, an award-winning collaboration with Indigenous artist Fiona Foley, which evokes the cultural and physical history of the site, before and after 1788.
Nature is the theme of her most recent work. Janet was the Australian representative for the Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015, which took place during the Paris Climate Change Conference in November 2015. She created a site-specific installation called Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef), which, she says, ‘addresses the threat to our natural environment and its fragility due to climate change and human impact on the Great Barrier Reef’. The work forms a ‘wunderkammer’ (a cabinet of curiosities) to enable the imaginative possibility for healing the reef. The space represents a resuscitation unit, as in a hospital, revealing the effects of climate change and raising awareness for the need for care.
This work was formed through a residency with the Australian Museum Marine Science Department and their Lizard Island research station in the Barrier Reef, where photography and images for the installation were sourced.
Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef) was exhibited in the Great Gallery of Evolution, within the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. On 28 July, The Australian Museum will exhibit Janet's installation..