chromogenic print, framed
120 × 209cm, image
Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Greg Woolley, 2008
The photographic series bulletproofglass by Rosemary Laing features a wounded bride suspended mid-air in a cloud-strewn sky. The images unfold like stills in a movie, giving an implied sense of narrative which allows Laing to explore several visual or thematic ideas in the one body of work. She also questions the assumption that photography’s role is to record the facts. The ambiguity of how the photographs were created – they are not digitally altered, but are the result of complex stunts with a professional stuntwoman on location in the Blue Mountains – undermines any clear concepts of reality and truthfulness. The images are not just documents of a place or space but are, in a sense, records of performances.
In this image, bulletproofglass #1, a bloodied bride is caught between the gravity of ascension or a plummet. In another work in the MCA collection, bulletproofglass #7, the bride falls in a rapid descent, her white skirts billowing around her. The idea of flying, or falling, brides came from Laing’s earlier series, flight research (1999), in which a woman in a wedding dress dives into the void of an empty, light-filled sky. The optimism of this series’ hope-fuelled leap into the unknown, made at the turn of the century, expressed the aspirations for the new millennium and hopes for a fresh start. In 1999, Laing spoke of how with flight research she had wanted to unfetter the body from the trappings of the technical prostheses of flight, liberating it unaided between earth and oblivion, suggestive of all the potential that can be out there.
Three years later, the injured brides of bulletproofglass signal a loss of innocence, a betrayal of hope and the wilful transgression of a social contract. This shift into the register of violence and uncertainty reflects Laing’s disillusionment with the broken promises and political failures of the new century, particularly the defeat of the Republican referendum in Australia and the refusal of the Federal Government to make a formal apology to the Aboriginal people.
Updated and approved August 2016.
Born 1959, Brisbane, Queensland. Lives and works Sydney.
Laing originally trained as a painter in the late 1970s and began incorporating photography in the late 1980s. Between 1990 and 1996 she sometimes exploited digital manipulation to represent how new technologies were altering experiences of time and place. Since then, Laing has produced project-based photographic work, often cinematic in vision and generally created with real-time performance and physical installation rather than digital manipulation. Her projects are often created in relation to cultural and/or historically resonant locations throughout Australia. Accumulatively, Laing’s projects can form a kind of ongoing narrative, which tracks periods and their events that have had an impact upon cultural consciousness.
With interventions undertaken in situ or through the use of choreographed performance work, she engages with the politics of place and contemporary culture. Her projects draw upon both the histories of a place or situation, and the conditions that create its contemporary circumstance. From these considerations she evolves the undertakings that become her images. Laing’s projects characteristically take a couple of years to complete, involving travel and time in the place of her subject to develop the vocabulary of her images. Sometimes the outcome leads Laing to set up a performance situation that at times is undertaken a studio setting.
Laing has exhibited extensively, initially in Australia (since the late 1980s), and then widening to Asia, Europe and the USA (since the 1990s). Laing has presented work in numerous curated museum exhibitions worldwide. Such exhibitions include: About Trees, Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne, Switzerland (2015); The Photograph and Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales (2015); DistURBANces, National Museum of History and Art, Luxembourg (2013); Australia: Land and Landscape, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2013); Confounding: Contemporary Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (2012); Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography, National of Victoria (2010); Manipulating Reality: How Images Redefine the World, Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Florence (2009); Shifting Terrain: Contemporary Landscape Photography, Wadsworth Atheneum, Connecticut (2006); Out There: Landscape in the New Millennium, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Ohio (2005); The Fleeting Moment Between Photography And Cinema, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin (2003); Himmelschwer. Transformationen der Schwerkraft, Landesmuseum Joanneum, Austria (2003); Das Lied von der Erde / The Song of the Earth, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (2000); Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1993); and Strangers in Paradise: Contemporary Australian Art to Korea, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (1992).
She has participated in various biennials, including Dark Heart: 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia (2014); Revolutions: Forms that Turn, 16th Biennale of Sydney (2008). Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense, Venice Biennale (2007), Chasm–NET, Busan Metropolitan Art Museum, Busan Biennale (2004) and New Orientation: The Vision of Art in a Paradoxical World, Instanbul Biennale (1995).
Survey and solo museum exhibitions of her work include effort + rush, National Art School Gallery, Sydney (2015); Rosemary Laing: Flight, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville (2007); prostrate your horses: weather and then some, The University of Queensland Art Museum (2006); The Unquiet Landscapes of Rosemary Laing, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2005) which travelled to Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik, Denmark (2006); Rosemary Laing, Domus Artium 2002, Spain (2004); Rosemary Laing: a survey 1995–2002, Brisbane City Gallery (2003); and aero-zone, National Museum of Art, Osaka (1999).
A monograph on Rosemary Laing by Abigail Solomon-Godeau was published by Prestel, New York in 2012.