By Rhonda Dredge
The Shoalhaven area up the east coast holds a special place in the hearts of even the most jaded nature watchers.
Sea eagles soar, shags sit on rocks and kingfish swim just offshore at dawn.
Even humans have left their strange detritus in a series of shipwrecks memorialised in legend.
A recent chronicler of the region is Rosemary Laing whose large archival pigment prints at Tolarno Gallery open up the landscape for city slickers.
Laing has done the human thing and made her foray into the forest a large-scale excursion involving photography, construction and back stories.
The series of photographs, depicting her interventions in the forest, works well in an urban setting to create a sense of longing in the viewer to be surrounded by bush.
Documentation of the work involved in getting the shots is also included in the exhibition.
In this current digital scene in which many photographic effects can be photoshopped, the figure of Laing becomes more heroic as she brings alive the way she collected, lugged and hammered her materials.
One part of her series involved the construction of a wooden skeleton of a roof truss, which she half-buried in a hillock. The other part involved the collection of hundreds of items of discarded clothing which she dyed red and laid out in a river through the forest.
Rose of Australia and Walter Hood are titles given to these depictions, names borrowed from two of the many shipwrecks in the area and clues to the simulations Laing is enacting.
There is a monument to the Walter Hood at Wreck Bay. History says that 12 people died. The setting is moving, a forest of bracken, bloodwood, stringybark, casuarina, blueberry ash, coastal banksia and even a souve orchid abutting an isolated beach.
The locals are very attached to the maritime stories of the coast and Laing’s renditions highlight some of the useless endeavours that make up our colonial history.
A “river of blood” flows through the forest, a challenge to those who romanticise the landscape. Fires have been through recently and the dead trees have been tagged in yellow. One tag reads EO29.
There’s something fixed about the official response to landscape and perhaps Laing is commenting on the way we usually photograph scenes and label them as if they were pristine instead of moving into them slowly and acknowledging our part in their evolution.
The spotting of a sea eagle, for example, might open up questions. Maybe it’s a kite. Then you know that the artist’s journey through the forest has been observed.
Someone is following and it has an open mind. That means something in the art world.
Rosemary Laing, Buddens, Tolarno Gallery, Exhibition St, until April 28.