Rosemary Laing

Burning Ayer #6, 2003
Type C Photograph
110.0 x 224.0 cm
number 2 from an edition of 10


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Gitte Weise Gallery, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney

'one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian Landscape (part 1), Gitte Weise Gallery, Sydney, 2003
''The unquiet landscapes of Rosemary Laing', Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 23 March-5 June 2005

This work has been illustrated and the series has been written about extensively including:
'The unquiet landscapes of Rosemary Laing', Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2005, illus. p.62-63
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, 'Rosemary Laing', Piper Press, Sydney, 2012, illus. p.131

‘For Laing, one’s place as a white Australian artist is inescapably a locus of contradiction and difficulty insofar as the indigenous people have historically been displaced. Or replaced. We find her work is always provisional, tactful, and a self-conscious investigation of her own imperfect belonging to homeland.’ (A.Solomon Godeau, Rosemary Laing, Piper Press, 2012, p. 28)

This is a climactic scene from the series ‘one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape’ 2003. In the series, spectacularly staged ‘disasters’ disrupt majestic landscape panoramas and Laing’s interventions recast the acts of invasion and colonisation as unnatural disasters; emphatic opposites to natural disasters like bushfire or flood.

The mesmerising image of flames pouring upward from Wirrimanu country near Balgo in Western Australia, has been made in the image of Uluru, with the sacred monolith fashioned from IKEA furniture powder coated in the red desert sand. The funerary pyre of a would-be Ayer’s Rock hints at disaster beyond itself.

Burning Ayer #6 riffs on the postcard trade that promotes Uluru as the essential, ancient Australia to throngs of tourist crowds. Laing takes aim at this sort of de-contextualised, pristine scenic photography that nullifies the contentious history of the site.

Godeau has said that ‘even in her deployment of a medium that freezes time forever, (Laing’s artworks) are concerned with critically mobilising the history of the present.’ So intricately researched, planned and executed are her images that the photographs represent one facet of a much larger sociological process at work beyond the picture plane.

  • Burning Ayer #6

Image courtesy of Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne and the artist

View artist profile

Rosemary Laing was a photo-based artist with a painter’s eye. Her highly detailed, intentional compositions meditated upon humankind’s complicated relationship to the natural environment. The resulting images combined a sublime appreciation of the distinct Australian landscape with highly choreographed human interventions that she integrated within nature in what amounts, in essence, to a transient form of land art.

Born in 1959 in Brisbane, Laing worked and exhibited from the early 1980s until her untimely death in 2024. She trained as a painter in the late-1970s before turning to photography, which was at first just a form of reference material. Laing rose to prominence with her flight research (1999) and bulletproof glass (2002) series of floating brides, images that defy reason in their composition and surreal quality, especially since they were shot without the assistance of digital composition.

In 2017-18, Laing was the subject of a major survey of her work from the last three decades at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, Victoria. In 2015, two of her photographic series – greenwork (1995) and brownwork (1996-97) – were shown in full in Rosemary Laing: transportation, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. An earlier major survey, the unquiet landscapes of rosemary laing, was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 2005, touring in 2006 to Kunsthallen Brandts Klaedefabrik, Odense, Denmark. Her work has been included in multiple biennials, including the Biennale of Sydney (2008); the Venice Biennale (2007); the Busan Biennale (2004); and the Istanbul Biennale (1995).

In 2019, Laing received the Overseas Photographer Award at the 35th Higashikawa Awards, Hokkaido, Japan, in career recognition of photographic achievements such as weather (2006); leak (2010) and buddens (2017). A monograph on Laing’s work was published by Prestel, New York, in 2012, written by Abigail Solomon-Godeau.