Janet Laurence

Light Seed, circa 1991
steel, wood, seeds, shellac, oil
192 x 137.5 cm overall (5 panels)
signed ‘J Laurence’ (on the reverse)

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Garry Anderson Gallery, Sydney
The Estate of Mollie Gowing,
Australian and International
Art, Shapiro Auctioneers, Sydney, 6 April 2011, Lot No. 134

Rare, City Gallery, (now Anna Schwartz Gallery), Melbourne, 1991

Five panels of identical height with widths slightly varied, form the back bones of Janet Laurence’s Light Seed (circa 1991). Seemingly disparate elemental materials such as wood, steel, and oil find an unexpected harmony in this work that straddles the realms of both installation and painting. 

In this work, 
Laurence’s vertical panels evoke the minimalist qualities synonymous with the modernist grid. The work’s scale also conjures a similar geometric presence to that of Sol Le Witt’s paintings and wall drawings. This unique sense of physicality was an intentional point of exploration in Laurence’s late 1980s and early 1990s panel works.

As the artist explains:   
 “I was really interested in the haptic experience of the body and how differently we relate to matter and how it is remembered by the body,” she says, adding, “the panels became like charts: a way of setting up an experience. So the big panels along the wall, which you move past, have a bodily scale and they are like bodies of matter.”[1] 

However, unlike her modernist predecessors, 
Laurence’s use of the grid transcends its formality as she introduces elements of movement, texture and chance. Seeds have been scattered and oiled on, whilst the natural lines in the wood warp and curl around the surface of the middle panel, contrasting the cool austerity of the steel on the far left. Light Seed is emblematic of Laurence’s ability to unite elements of order and chaos in the same frame, holding both in a fragile harmony. 

Light Seed originated from an important moment of transition in 
Laurence’s career. Increasingly interested in pushing the parameters of what constitutes an art object, her practice would continue to morph into the pubic space grappling with the scientific, artist and museological. 
Often defying Art Historical categorisation, Laurence’s artistic scope remains concerned with the interrelatedness of all things. Ideas of transformation and alchemy allow her to bring together seemingly irreconcilable ideas and materials to create new artistic possibilities. Ultimately, her works call for a profound sense of empathy for the environment around us, inviting the audience to reconsider the fragile beauty of the natural world and our place in it.          
[1] Rachel Kent, Janet  Laurence: After Nature, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2019, url: https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/janet-laurence-after-nature/  

  • Light Seed

Image courtesy of the artist

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For over three decades, Janet Laurence has created artworks and installations grounded in delicate balances that hold the natural world together. Her works synthesise a scientific understanding of nature into immersive, reverential installations that record the effects of climate change, deforestation, species extinction and the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef.

Born in Sydney in 1947, Laurence studied in Italy and the United States, where she encountered Land and Earth Art, including the works of Alan Sonfist, and saw a retrospective of Joseph Bueys at the Guggenheim Museum (1979) which she has described as formative. Her work draws on literary influences like W.G. Sebald as well as unusual sources like Piet Mondrian, whose theosophical writings and geometric compositions find a place in some of Laurence's series. A pervading interest across Laurence's work has been to challenge the boundaries of the museum space and create immersive works that mirror the feeling of being in nature - in many cases literally using glass and mirrors in her installations.

In 2019, Laurence received a major survey, After Nature, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. In 2017, coinciding with the loan of works from the Rijksmuseum to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the exhibition Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age, Laurence exhibited the installation Matter of the Masters (2017-18). Her installation Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef was exhibited at the Musée National D'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France (2015) and at the Australian Museum, Sydney (2016). She has exhibited at Biennales in Cuenca, Ecuador (2016), Sydney (2010), Adelaide (2008), and at the 11th Venice Achitecture Biennale, Venice, Italy (2008). Laurence was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wale from 1995-2005 and was the subject of John Beard's winning portrait in the 2007 Archibald Prize.