Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

(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.’’

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