Janet Laurence: Inside the Flower

An environmental revolution requires a call to arms and a call back to nature. Artists, filmmakers and writers have been heeding the call for sometime, and in some cases leading the charge. As they up the ante to get our attention with a melting iceberg, a canoe being hauled through Paris or footage of abandoned polar bears, it seems we need more sustained and focused campaigns to be reeled in. Artists in particular are encouraging audiences to dig deep, be courageous and rethink our relationship with the environment, the landscape and the earth – our communal garden – while at the same time scientists struggle to communicate the scale and future threats of climate change.

The call for urgent action asks us to act locally and respond with creative, innovative solutions from the ground up. Citizen science is now commonplace and encouraged along with community initiatives. The question remains: how to revitalise a movement that started with Earth Day in 1970 and has since lost steam – despite continued warnings that we need to act collectively to reverse our damage to the earth’s environment.

Standing on a sustained podium with proverbial megaphone in hand is Sydney based artist Janet Laurence,  a woman practiced in the language of revolution.

'Inside the Flower' by Janet Laurence, IGA Berlin 2017. Image by Leslie Ranzoni

She ventures far (last year to the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef) and close to home (Southern Highland caves and grottos), researching lost habitats, threatened animals, bryophytes (mosses, lichens and ferns) and medicinal plants. Her endless energy and growing environmental concern are evident when she talks about seeing the effects of global warming and habitat loss. Last year, she dove at Lizard Island, recording coral bleaching and damage from the crown of thorns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Constantly expanding her environmental intelligence, she continues her deep dive into areas into which most of us do not dare venture.”

Laurence’s most recent work has been realised as a large, immersive public installation in Europe. Inside the Flower at The International Garden Exhibition Berlin 2017 was one of nine works from internationally selected artists invited to create site-specific works focusing on ecology and sustainable living. The opportunity at IGA Berlin became a platform for intercultural dialogue and a laboratory for innovation for Laurence, who collaborated with LAVA Architects (Berlin and Asia Pacific) and CityPlot Amsterdam. 

Inside the Flower, by Janet Laurence. Image by Michael Gessner
'Inside the Flower' by Janet Laurence, IGA Berlin 2017. Image by Michael Gessner
Image by Leslie Ranzoni

The opportunity to show her work at a sustainable living festival for an extended period meant Laurence could create an educational hub and performance space sharing her concern for the future understanding of plants outside formal art world institutions. Inside The Flower started with Laurence’s concept design – a geometric pavilion inspired by plant anatomy. LAVA Director, Tobias Wallisser commented: “Laurence’s mixed-media installations explore nature-related themes and our concepts are similar – the shapes and structures from the natural world are the inspiration for LAVA’s designs. The connection between nature and technology underpins our approach.”

‘Inside the Flower’ is indeed a revolutionary space, especially for Laurence.

It is almost like she is upturning our relationship with nature and how we interpret the plants around us in an effort to drive home the importance of biodiversity and plant life.”

The resulting space offers a peaceful observatory in which to appreciate the beauty of the botanical displays, while immersing visitors in the histories and mythologies of the psychotropic and medicinal qualities of the plants. The structure successfully encloses a living Wunderkammer of botanical specimens and their biological systems in a laboratory-like space, with tubes and vials of fluids, offering a metaphor for intravenous plant feeding and nutrient delivery. Surrounding the exterior of the pavilion is a delicate medicinal plant garden complete with botanical descriptions, which serves to attract beneficial insects as well as curious humans. ‘Inside The Flower’ is a unique environment to observe the wonder of botanical specimens and to contemplate their origins. Ironically, it also brings visitors face to face with the fragility of our ecology and the significant role plants play, evoking a nursing station or man-made specimen lab.

Creating an immersive environment navigating the interconnections between organic elements and the science of nature was the most important element for Laurence. A way to share and explore what it might mean to heal, albeit metaphorically, the natural environment. ‘Inside The Flower’ expresses a sense of communal loss whilst displaying potential powerful and renewing life forces. Laurence expresses her concerns about the future of plant discoveries for medicinal purposes and our survival. “Our deep relationship with nature stems directly from the first discoveries of the differing qualities of plants including psychotropic qualities,” she says. “I am discovering more and more about our deep relationships with nature. Particularly about some of the unique plants that are now used for drugs.

If we don’t protect unique plant communities and biospheres,” Laurence asks, “how will we come across what is yet to be discovered?”

As an artist and a citizen Janet Laurence continues to be a passionate advocate for the value of creative responses to climate change. She leads the charge in looking beyond the scientific in the hope of raising awareness, finding creative solutions, and most importantly, shattering complacency.

IGA Berlin and Inside The Flower runs until 15 October 2017. Laurence is also currently exhibiting in Lost Habitats – an exhibition at Oldenburg Schloss in conjunction with the Landesmuseum Natur und Mensch, Oldenburg, Germany and also Moving Plants at the University of Copenhagen, Næstved, Denmark. Laurence was an Australian representative for the COP21/FIAC Artists 4 Climate Change (2015) and is currently an artist in residence at the Australian Museum, Sydney.

'Inside the Flower' by Janet Laurence, IGA Berlin 2017. Image by Leslie Ranzoni
'Inside the Flower' by Janet Laurence, IGA Berlin 2017. Image by Leslie Ranzoni