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  • Fiona Prior

After Nature

After Nature - Janet Laurence

I vividly remember visiting Janet Laurence ‘In Memory of Nature’ in 2010 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and being overwhelmed by the exhibition's beauty and sadness. All these glorious specimens of nature – leaves, corals, crystals, bones – all placed in a glass display case, like a museum presentation of past rarities and wonders.

It struck me that Laurence’s work was implying a world where we visit a museum to see nature, or elements of what nature once was in all her beauty and whimsy and amazing forms and shapes. I left that exhibition seriously heavy hearted even though the visual was exquisite. The ‘lost nature’ concept overwhelmed the beauty of Laurence's pain-staking and sparkling installation. I didn’t want to imagine a place where nature was a memory.

image: ‘Deep breathing resuscitation for the Reef’ 2015 courtesy of the artist and MCA

After Nature’, presently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents a decade of Laurence’s work, capturing the determined focus of an artist to articulate her vision and also the high esteem in which Laurence is held by the multiple organisations that 'contribute' to her extraordinary portfolio: Rainforest Seed Conservation Project, Australian PlantBank, Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan, Australian Museum, Geocoastal Research Group, School of Geosciences, Marine Studies Institute, University of Sydney ....

‘Fabled 1-12 from After Eden series’ (2011), is but another heart-breaking record of treasures that are irrevocably lost.

image: ‘Fabled 1-12 from After Eden series’ (2011) (detail) courtesy of the artist and MCA

image: ‘Fabled 1-12 from After Eden series’ (2011) (detail) courtesy of the artist and MCA

image: ‘Fabled 1-12 from After Eden series’ (2011) (detail) courtesy of the artist and MCA

Gratefully, other areas of the exhibition give us hope. A huge tree carcass is gently bandaged in the centre of a large exhibition space while rare, living specimens of endangered rainforest species are put on life support in the form of seedlings in little glass vials on intravenous drips 'Cellular Gardens (Where Breathing Begins)' 2005.

images: 'Cellular Gardens (Where Breathing Begins)' (2005) (detail) courtesy of the artist and MCA

In another huge area is a forest of silk-screened trees and fauna 'Theatre of Trees' (2019), which brings together the last decade of Laurence’s research into plants, their medicinal and healing powers, and trees. This 'forest' is surrounded by three educational modules that are as intricately presented as any artwork but contain a vault of knowledge from myth, science and the apothecary of varied cultures.

Laurence’s artistic career and her personal commitment brings to mind the words of Katherine Wilkinson, first published in ‘Healing the Land’', 2018.

If you play in the intervention space of shifting paradigms, well that’s the most powerful space you can be. That is the place of story, and of human heart and culture…

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