This month marks a unique time in Janet Laurence’s career. She will be simultaneously exhibiting a major project at the Australian Museum, a solo show at Dominik Mersch Gallery and contributing to a group exhibition, Troubled Waters, at UNSW Galleries. We are privileged to have access to Janet’s Chippendale studio at this time, where she will talk us through her ideas and reveal the complex process behind her major installations that have been exhibited and collected around the world.

Janet is well known for her in-depth examination of the relationship between humans and nature. Across public artworks, museum installations, photography and sculpture, Janet employs the visual languages of science, horticulture and alchemy to draw attention to the complex and fragile matrix that is our natural world. Many of her works have focused on endangered species, sick or injured plants and ecosystems under threat. Bandaged plants with silicon tubes attached imply both illness and healing, whilst scientific glass vessels – test tubes, flasks and beakers – suggest that with enough research and forethought, remediation may yet be possible.

“As an artist, I feel that I have an access to a different public than the scientists, and I think what is quite interesting is to be able to reveal a lot of that material that is seen in the scientific world and … make it more accessible. Because I think sometimes the general public are a bit mystified by scientific information. And I feel that happens very much with the discussion of climate change,” said Laurence in a recent podcast conversation with Australian Museum CEO, Kim McKay.

Artist Janet Laurence in her Chippendale studio.

Janet Laurence, Cellular Gardens (where breathing begins), 2005

Janet’s major installation Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef), which opened to the public at the Australian Museum last week, is a place of symbolic healing. Janet developed Deep Breathing during her time as Artist-in-Residence with the Australian Museum. As part of residency, she spent time working from the Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, located on the Barrier Reef, 270km north of Cairns. Working at this location has allowed Janet to immerse herself in the environment, observe scientific research processes and witness first-hand the extent and effects of coral bleaching.

“For me now, I’m wanting to talk about what we are losing in my art. Often my work is celebrating the beauty and extraordinary aspects of nature, but I feel compelled to reveal – in a state of emergency – what’s happening,” said Laurence in the Australian Museum podcast.

Detail from Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef), Australian Museum

MarketringDetail from Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef). Photographer: Marc Domage © Janet Laurence

During our studio visit, we will talk to Janet about her experiences working with scientists at Lizard Island, and the impact this research has had upon her practice. We will also touch on her concurrent show at Dominik Mersch Gallery, Naturestruck, which acts as a cabinet of curiosities, revealing the process behind the creation of her large-scale installations. The studio visit will complete this picture, as we are led through the space where her ideas are generated and developed. Appropriately, this space feels equal parts artist’s studio, science lab and alchemist’s workshop. Beakers, test tubes and plant samples are as ubiquitous as pigment, perspex, sealers and binders, and all are used in the creation of Janet’s striking and thought-provoking works that often act as self-contained ecosystems.

Janet Laurence is at the forefront of a movement that combines art and climate science. Last year she was the Australian representative for COP21/FIAC, Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015 Exhibition, a major exhibition presented alongside the Paris climate talks. She has been recognised with numerous awards, residencies and fellowships, and is currently a Visiting Fellow at UNSW Art & Design and Artist-in-Residence at the Australian Museum. Her work is held in major state and national gallery collections, and her public art commissions can be seen at locations around the world including the Museum of Sydney forecourt, Changi Airport, Singapore and the Australian War Memorial in London.


Join Contemporaries and Janet Laurence in her Chippendale studio for an exclusive evening of cocktails and conversation on Wednesday 17 August, 6:30pm. 

Become a member of Contemporaries to receive your invitation to the Janet Laurence studio visit, plus access to a calendar of exclusive events, tours and member benefits.

Interested in becoming a Contemporaries member but want to try it out before you join? You can purchase single tickets to this event here.

Feature image: Detail from Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef). Photographer: Marc Domage. All images courtesy the artist © Janet Laurence.