Living Data: Align

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned
that this program contains images and voices of deceased persons.

Living Data: Align

2015 Conversations

Disclaimers, Copyrights and Citations

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"It is because science grows out of the preoccupations and pressures of everyday life
that its discoveries have, in the end, to be accessible to all of us."
Lisa Jardine, 1999. Ingenious Pursuits:
Building the Scientific Revolution

A Hospital for Corals

Janet Lawrence explains A Hospital for Corals, her contribution to the Artists 4 Paris Climate Change 2015program. The aim of this work is to stir global action to mitigate harmful human impacts on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

This conversation is immediately followed by another conversation, with UTS scientist Rebecca Foxwho explains her research to better understand and respond to the changing Reef. Rebecca provides underwater video for Janet's Paris installation.

Janet's passion is to reconnect people to the living world that is damaged by human impacts. Her studio is filled with objects gleaned from nature and from science labs, arranged to suggest a hospital for corals. Vials of vibrant colour are suspended above bleached specimens, like medical attempts at resuscitation. Back-lit microscopy prints on transparent acrylic resemble X-rays of human body parts. Bleached and broken corals, delicately wrapped in white gauze, evoke evidence of human impacts and of human compassion. I feel moved by the symbolic efforts of this artist to inspire scientific understanding, to know how best to reverse the damage.


Lisa Roberts in conversation

Janet Lawrence

I DO want to deal with the real world and I DO want to have a voice in the threatened state of our planet, and [ask, through art] Can we do something?

Tell me a bit more about the level of interaction to engage people with the plants. It's not cultural; it's biological.

I guess my passion has always been very much about caring for ... the natural world. So I guess I've married my art into it in a way ... and it's become more and more embedded into it, whereas it started off a little it more abstracted, like it was much more to do with alchemy. But it was still dealing with matter.. now it's about real places.

Tell me a bit more about the level of interaction to engage people with the plants. It's not cultural; it's biological.

Yes it is. One time I had an actor being a botanist, as though he'd arrived in the colony [in Australia] for the first time, and he's just going around tasting these things, and he's analysing it [each thing] in terms of what are the botanical elements in it, that give it a certain taste. Like, you can look at all the ones that have that citrus flavour, in the natives [plants], and then try to understand what's the molecular being of those plants. So I do make that distinction. I'm not saying one's cultural, because of course the indigenous peoples have been using all of these plants, and they have symbolic significance to them, and I don't ignore that. But in my way of using it, it's about the botanic being I'd see in the plant.

Was there a turning point?

No, it was quite gradual I think. I got invited to Mexico, to the Chiapas, to the Amazon, to work with a whole group of people in the arts, you know, from poets, to writers, to artists. And we were all invited to make projects to this big threat to the Amazon. And it was just an amazing thing that this was happening there. And then I came back here and I went to the Styx forest here, and started to work with that, and so on. It's led to so many places now, to look at.

So when I was invited into this show in Paris, invited by the French... I'm not being sent by the Australian government by the way, of course. The Australian government [led at this time by Tony Abbott] don't want to know that I'm going. You know what I mean. You can imagine.

So first of all I said I want to be in the Natural History Museum, I want to make a work that you could engage with in a way, about the Great Barrier Reef. And that's how it came about. Initially I wanted to make it like the whole Barrier Reef was on an arc. But then, obviously, that became quite difficult, and there were restrictions with working with this museum, this grand, amazing museum - the Evolution Gallery there in the Jardin de Plantes [Paris]. It's fabulous. And they have a huge past of research with marine science. So it felt it's the right place for it to be. It will look completely different, obviously, from one of their exhibits. And also, I think, quite accessible. Very accessible, even for kids. I think they have a lot of children come through there and I think that's good.

I think that's terribly important. It's their future.

I know. And I've got some real films, a lot of great films about the Barrier Reef. But I'm taking away the tourist aspect of those films. I'm altering films so you can focus on actual images of the reef, in juxtapposition to all this [her art work]. I've got to do all that yet. That's a bit freaky....

Janet Lawrence