(1999), Queensland Art Gallery collection. Purchased 2000, Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant. On display Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, as part of the exhibition Lightness & Gravity: Works from the Contemporary Collection, until November 5.
WHILE living under the flight path of Sydney airport in the mid-1990s and with 747s virtually landing on the roof of her Leichhardt studio, photographer Rosemary Laing became inspired by the concept of flight.
As a result of her new-found interest, she conducted extensive research into the mechanics of flight and produced several works on the theme.
She took photographs while strapped into a Tiger Moth and another set of photographs at the Qantas international terminal.
She also tapped into how other artists had used flight in their work, such as Bruce Nauman in Failing to Levitate in My Studio (1966) and Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void (1960), and how others had charted movement, such as photographer Eadweard Muybridge, Marcel Duchamp in Nude Descending a Staircase and Italian futurists Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni.
From 1998 to 2000, Laing’s fascination led her to create an enigmatic and dramatic series of photographs titled Flight Research, featuring images of a bride dressed in a traditional wedding gown, flying, falling and floating among the clouds.
It may look as if Flight Research is a series of studio shots but actually it’s the result of complex stunts using a professional stuntwoman with a long history of working on action films. The images were photographed on location in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. And while Laing does not reveal exactly how each photograph was produced, she does say they were neither digitally manipulated nor enhanced with computer generated imagery.
Laing, who was born in Brisbane in 1959 and is one of Australia’s most internationally successful artists, believes flight sits in our consciousness as a kind of fantasy or dream. ‘‘ It is a metaphorical notion,’’ she said in an artist’s statement. ‘‘ Children dream of flying. It is a very escapist notion to be able to fly. Superheroes fly ... I was interested in unfettering the body from the mechanics of flight.’’
Flight Research # 5 is on display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art. When the curator of contemporary Australian art, Peter McKay, shows me the work, I’m struck by how the bride levitates and hovers above the horizon. There’s a sense of freedom and euphoria as she floats unhindered by gravity in the cerulean sky. McKay observes that the bride’s wedding dress echoes the clouds and aids in our belief that she is suspended in the air. The image also echoes the role the bride has played in art history, such as Arthur Boyd’s Bride series or Marc Chagall’s floating brides.
‘‘ Flight Research # 5 is a very complicated image,’’ McKay says. ‘‘ A lot of Laing’s works are hugely ambitious and that is where she always succeeds. One of her strengths is making these problem-makers and I do find this image slightly problematic. There are all these questions: is the bride escaping something? Has she found her freedom? Her freedom from gravity is utopian but her dress complicates the image.
‘‘ The dress gives an implication of particular ceremony, ritual or significance of occasion. If she was wearing a fluoro tracksuit or something it would have a completely different feel but there seems to be a symbolic weight to her costume.
‘‘ And, although another of Laing’s strengths is her literal approach to constructing an image, she excels by charging her images with metaphoric potential.
‘‘ A desire to fly, to escape our confines and feel an unrestrained freedom is present in both our waking dreams and slumber. Escaping gravity can be a metaphor for every restraint, and is a desire shared by people across cultures and time.’’