Brisbane-born Rosemary Laing is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, working primarily in photography. Originally trained as a painter, Laing is known for her painstaking ‘making’, rather than ‘taking’, of photographs. Her works frequently begin as physical installations in the landscape as opposed to digital manipulations, and the sites she chooses are often culturally and historically resonant.

Laing’s intention is to disrupt the landscape creating somewhat surreal works by juxtaposing objects and people with specific environments. These images disturb our sense of reality and expectation. Her earlier works have even included brides somersaulting in mid-air!

groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 initially appears to be a bushland scene bathed in dappled light. On closer inspection, we notice the English rose-petal carpet which seamlessly forms the rainforest floor. The installation of this English-designed carpet in the Australian bush can be seen as a metaphor for the European colonisation of Australia and its impact on the natural landscape and its Indigenous people.

Rosemary Laing, born Brisbane 1959, 2024, groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17, 2001, Morton National Park, New South Wales, type C photograph, 110.0 x 195.0 cm (image); Gift of Susan Armitage through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2012, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Brumby Mound #5 is part of the series One dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscapeand was made on the lands of the Wirrimanu Aboriginal community of Balgo. Red-coloured ubiquitous furniture, including chairs, desks, lamps and coffee tables – of the type mass-produced by Ikea and found in homes across the globe – are scattered on the spinifex-dotted foreground. Despite being the same colour, the furniture creates a contrast between ancient Balgo country and modern, mass-produced products.

Rosemary Laing, born Brisbane 1959, 2024, brumby mound #5, from the series one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape, 2003, Wirrimanu (Balgo), Western Australia, type c photograph, 127.0 x 241.5 x 6.5 cm; Gift of Candice Bruce through the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors 2022. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program., Art Gallery of South Australia, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

  • Paintings by John Glover, Hans Heysen and Tom Roberts are sometimes described as ‘typical’, or traditional landscapes. Which do you think is the most accurate depiction of the Australian landscape? Select a work of art in the Gallery that best represents the place where you live and explain why.
  • Imagine you have stepped inside your favourite work by Laing. What can you see, smell or hear? Collect a range of items, images or sound recordings that respond to this work of art. Share your response with your class.
  • Titles of works of art sometimes provide information about what a work of art might be about. Research the words Laing has used to title her works and consider why he has used these titles.
  • Look at John Glover’s painting of his Tasmanian home – A view of the artist’s house and garden, in Mill’s Plains, Van Diemen’s Land (1835). How has Glover created a comfort zone in a landscape that was foreign to him? Do you think Laing has created a sense of belonging or comfort in groundspeed (rose petal) #17? How does Laing’s concept differ to that of Glover?
  • Select three works of art in the collection that depict the Australian landscape in three different ways. Discuss how and why each artist has depicted the landscape. Compare these artists’ intentions to those of Laing.
  • groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 was made in Morton National Park in the Southern Highlands, South Coast and Illawarra regions of New South Wales. Visit a local national park near your school or home and investigate the purpose of national parks.

Rosemary Laing, born Brisbane 1959, 2024, a dozen useless actions for grieving blondes #2, 2009, Sydney, type C photograph, 77.3 x 127.5 cm (image & sheet); Gift of anonymous donors through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, photo: Rosemary Laing.

  • What would normally be found on the ground of a bushland environment?
  • As a class discuss what the word ‘surreal’ means. Can you find other examples of surreal works of art on display? Based on your class discussion, how is the work you selected considered surreal?
  • After first viewing groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 you might think the photograph has been created digitally. But Laing is very precise in her work, selecting scenes and carefully preparing the areas\ to be photographed, waiting for the right light and weather conditions. In groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 the forest floor has been laid with carpet, carefully cut and fitted on site so that it seems to be the ground from which rocks, gums and ferns emerge. Why do you think Laing chose not to manipulate her image digitally but to accurately create the scene? What challenges do you think Laing may have encountered installing the carpet in this landscape?
  • Modern Australia has been criticised for the reckless treatment and neglect of the environment. Laing is concerned by the way that contemporary society occupies, exploits and neglects the landscape. Discuss these statements with reference to Laing's works of art.
  • Look at the large variety of works of art on display throughout the Gallery that address Australian identity. Why do you think these artists explore ideas about our national identity? What is it about Australia, and its history that inspires so many artists to respond in such a variety of ways?
  • Explain how the carpet in groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 could be interpreted as a metaphor for colonisation.
  • In Laing’s series bulletproofglass brides are shown in an antique lace wedding dress. Anne Ferran has also used a wedding garment in her work Untitled (blue wedding gown #1). Explore why these artists might have incorporated these objects into their work.

Rosemary Laing, born Brisbane 1959, 2024, bulletproofglass #3, 2002, Sydney, type C photograph on metallic paper, 120.0 x 193.0 cm (sheet); South Australian Government Grant 2002, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

  • Taking inspiration from Laing’s placement of a carpet in the forest in groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17, using images from magazines, collage home décor items into a landscape setting.
  • Items such as carpet, wallpaper and decorative objects for the home are often inspired by nature. Create a new wallpaper or carpet pattern inspired by the Australian landscape.
  • The carpet pattern used in groundspeed (Rose Petal) #17 resembles a pattern Laing remembers from her childhood. What patterns do you recall from your childhood? Perhaps it was the wallpaper in a relative’s home or the design of a favourite t-shirt. Using drawing or paint, recreate this pattern.
  • Laing’s work often explores ideas about belonging and not belonging. Create a series of images of yourself in places you do not belong. You might like to draw these surreal scenes or create them digitally. Perhaps you could manipulate a photograph of yourself perched next to birds in a tree or standing on an aeroplane as it soars across the sky. Contrast these photographs with an image of yourself situated in a place where you feel like you belong.
  • In Laing’s series Weather (2006) she explores mysterious weather events and references her long-term interest in extreme weather, natural and human-made disasters. Investigate a natural or human made disaster that has occurred in Australia. Create a work of art in response to this event.
  • The face of Australia was changing from the late 1960s due to the influence of feminism, migration and increased recognition of Indigenous artists. Photographers began constructing images that explored complex narratives and sometimes included theatrical props or sets. The photographer became the director. In addition to Laing, other photographers such as Gregory Crewdson, Tracey Moffatt, Cindy Sherman and Sandy Skoglund created photographs by first constructing tableaux. Using these artists as a starting point, plan, create and photograph a tableau that embodies a cinematic quality, like the artists mentioned above.
  • Laing’s photographs are a contrast, a ‘visual collision’ containing suggestions of ‘alien’ elements dropped into, or invading, the natural landscape. With this approach in mind, create a work of art that responds to the impact colonisation has had on the Australian environment.

Rosemary Laing, born Brisbane 1959, 2024, weather #12, 2006, Eden, New South Wales, type C photograph, 53.0 x 98.0 cm (image); Gift of Julian and Stephanie Grose through the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors 2015. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration Kylie Neagle Education Coordinator and Dr. Lisa Slade Assistant Director, Artistic Programs.