The acclaimed Australian artist is bringing her immersive installation from the Paris Climate Summit to the Australian Museum
From July 28, visitors to the Australian Museum will be struck by a curious installation that appears part underwater laboratory, part hospital ward. The sick patient in this case is the Great Barrier Reef; the ‘doctor’ is Sydney-based artist Janet Laurence (whose H2O Water Bar was part of Art & About this past summer).
In 2015, Laurence was one of 30 artists from 23 countries selected by the international committee of Artists 4 Climate Change to exhibit her work in conjunction with the Paris Climate Change Conference. In response, she created a wunderkammer of memento mori for the endangered Great Barrier Reef, installed at the Museum of National d’Histoire from October 2015, to coincide with the talks.
In Deep Breathing (Resuscitation for the Reef) the Great Barrier Reef is revealed as the fragile and endangered ecosystem it has become, rather than the tourist-brochure-ready natural wonder it used to be.
Laurence conducted research for the project as part of a residency with the Australian Museum that embedded her with scientists at their Lizard Island research station, off the coast of Cairns. During the time she was part of several dives, and she learned about the acidification of the water, coral bleaching, and the effect of warming waters on the delicate reef ecosystem.
The resulting installation is comprised of glass vitrines containing various specimens from the Reef and the Australian Museum (including bleached coral, preserved fish and shells). A screen shows underwater footage in negative, so that the environment appears bleached of colour and almost alien.
Laurence describes it as a kind of hospital ward for an ecosystem on the brink of collapse. She explains, “I wanted to remove the data and the scientific language and present it in terms of the human medical experience, to engage people’s empathy.”