(by Madeleine Boyd)
I first encountered Janet Laurence at the USYDN HARN symposium ‘Animal Death’ in mid 2012. Janet was in conversation with Deborah Bird Rose on the topic of her exhibition ‘After Eden’, commissioned by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation. Encounters between human and animal within the context of the Anthropocene were core concerns of the works. Clever use of shadow, magnification, video editing and museum collections brought the viewer to re-examine oft forgotten secrets of the animal world. Tigers on secret trails in the Indonesian jungle appeared in painterly moving image, or the preserved foetus of a nocturnal mammal became magnified and shadowed, so transformed to a natural object of intense, unsettling mystery. In my mind this exhibition was an opus in phenomenology of perception as a practice in visual philosophy.
Installation View ‘After Eden’ (2012)
My reaction to ‘discovering’ Janet was of awe and thankfulness to find a leader in the art world working so ardently on bringing evocative, mystical and aesthetic encounters with the biotic world of animal and plant into a gallery setting. Also, to find that there exists in Janet and her colleagues beyond, a concerned pursuit to develop adequate ‘languages’ in art that will be useful to presenting complex ideas of human-non-human animal relations.
To do this Janet also pointed out we must negotiate the prickly paths of art as activism in an aesthetic context; being overly obvious – maintaining mystery in life; turning off the people we most want to have experience moments of openness to our concepts; being conceptually obscure; and being able to draw upon a shared language of reference based on the ongoing development of art practice – a history of human-animal art. Such concerns will certainly be moved forward within the process of this current exhibition, playing within the framework of and giving opportunity to represent ‘intra-action’ between human-non-human animals in visual experience.
Janet’s work in recent years and over three decades has often centered around concepts of extinction and disappearance. Her late 2012 exhibition at Arc One gallery drew on her thoughts around the clear-felled Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania. Looking forward in 2013, Janet has been commissioned to encounter sea turtles in Queensland, some of the outcomes of which we hope to see our July exhibition.
For more examples and discussion of her extensive body of work :