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  • May 29, 2024

Rosemary Laing, 1959–2024

Portrait of ROSEMARY LAING. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, and Galerie Lelong & Co, New York.

On May 24, the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide and Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne announced that Australian photographer Rosemary Laing, known for her iconic photos of women soaring through vast skies and interventions into natural landscapes, had passed away after a short illness. She was 65 years old.

Born in Brisbane in 1959, Laing received her MFA from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in 1996. She first received public recognition for her conceptual series flight research (1998–2000), where she captured a professional stuntwoman dressed as a bride on location in the Blue Mountains of western Sydney. The artist appears to suspend time, as the woman in white defies gravity in each photo.

Liang continued to stage airborne brides in her next series titled bulletproofglass (2002), but this time with the addition of a gunshot wound tainting the dress in crimson. The work was said to have been inspired by the failure of Australia’s Republic referendum in 1999, and the government’s refusal to formally acknowledge the suffering of the First Nations people and reconcile the country’s problematic past. 

In a tribute posted to Instagram, curator Rhana Devenport, the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), stated that Laing’s art practice is about: “the politics of place, the natural environment, human rights and personal psychological inquiry . . . [where] works are often cinematic and vast in scale and employ performative actions.” The AGSA is home to 12 of Laing’s works that span from 1988 to 2010.

Laing has created other renowned series such as The Paper (2013–14), which was made during her residency at the art center Bundanon in southern New South Wales in 2013. The works capture newspaper sheets covering the ground in a forest and slowly decomposing after a flood.   

Major surveys of her work were held at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, in 2005, Denmark’s Kunsthallen Brandts Klædefabrik the following year, and in 2017–18 at the Tarrawarra Museum of Art in Healesville, Victoria. Liang participated in biennales in Sydney (2008), Venice (2007), Busan (2004), and Istanbul (1995). All the major museums of Australia hold her works in their collections, as does the Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, among other international museums. In 2019 Laing received the Overseas Photographer Award at the 35th Higashikawa Awards in Hokkaido for her series weather (2006), leak (2010), and Buddens (2017).

Laing’s most recent exhibition was held in March and April 2024 and was titled “swansongs” (2024), an exhibition of photographs and “shellworks” at Tolarno Galleries, where she was represented for 18 years. The exhibition name alludes to her home in Swanhaven, on the coast of New South Wales. Laing described the showcase as being about “a love of, an attachment to, homeland or places of belonging . . . all the memories and histories that have stemmed from that place, and the making of a kind of ‘song’ that combines the enigma of this attachment with a sadness for what has happened in this place.”

Camilla Alvarez-Chow is an editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific.

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