Concerned with the site’s history, In the Shadow by Janet Laurence is an environmental artwork that addresses the remediation of the Homebush Bay area from industrial contamination. The site-specific installation in Boundary Creek within Sydney Olympic Park creates an experiential space by activating the landscape—specifically the water within it.
Symbolising a scientific monitoring system, the work comprises twenty-one apparatus wands standing at different heights within the creek, which appear to measure the elements and water quality. At set times, atmospheric fog emanates throughout the landscape transforming and cooling the creek environment. A Casuarina forest lines either side of the creek bed for 100 metres and bulrushes fill the edges of the creek, together providing a habitat for native fauna.
The work aims to reveal the transforming chemistry of water remediation by creating a poetic alchemical zone as a metaphor for the actual transformation of Homebush Bay from its degraded contaminated industrial past into a green and living site for the future.
Aesthetic/Visual: Janet Laurence wanted to create an anti-monument for the Olympic Park Boulevard that formed the landscape and created an experiential space. She intended to make the site an alchemical transformation and build a linear green, organic ribbon in opposition to the constructed architectural nature of the surrounding site.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual): The artist wanted to create a public artwork within the existing landscape that was ‘visible’. Something that is both visual and remediates the environment.
Audience Engagement: To create a space that exists as a place of allure and education beyond the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Water Quality and Management/Air Quality/Habitat Provision and Restoration: The artist wanted to clean up a contaminated waterway through installing a pollution filter and planting Casuarinas and bulrushes, which improve water salinity. The tree plantation was also intended to improve air quality and attract native birds and wildlife back to the area.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTs
Aesthetic/Visual: Although subtle in appearance, In the Shadow successfully exemplifies the transformation from the site’s toxic past to present state. Being an organic work, the visual elements have developed over the years, but these still uphold the original concept.
Innovation/Risk (Technical): A series of tests were conducted on different materials to determine the most suitable material for the wands. These included resin, glass, acrylic, stainless steel and Marblo. Further to this, engineering and strength tests were carried out.
Waste Management and Water Quality: In-depth studies and evaluations were done on the waterway. Boundary Creek was previously a stormwater channel that released huge amounts of pollution into Homebush Bay. The pollution filter and plantings have assisted in cleaning the water.
Habitat Provision and Restoration: Native water-hens returned to the site almost immediately and started nesting, and life has returned to the creek.
Energy Efficiency: LEDs have replaced the original fibre optic lights and the fog system operates at set times to reduce the amount of energy used throughout the day.
In the Shadow was selected from one of five invited artist proposals for the Olympic Boulevard site. The initial concept that was presented to the Olympic Coordination Authority board distinctly changed over the two-year development and realisation period. The artist has described working on this large-scale project as being “very challenging” and “personally evolving.” This was due to a number of factors: working with natural elements (water, fauna); considerations relating to potential vandalism; the specific use of the site, i.e. the large crowds that would visit it; and also working with a large team of people, including consultants, architects and landscape architects. Most changes were due to site-specific logistics, suitability of materials and budget. The original proposal included elements such as fire on the water, small stepping-stone bridges and landings, which were deemed unsafe and unsuitable for the large crowds that would be attracted by the Olympic Games. The artist was required to work with an engineer and consult on the final bridge design. Consequently, the bridges were much wider and more imposing than originally conceived in order to accommodate the thousands of Olympic Games visitors that would cross them at any one time.
The artist wanted to create transparent wands from glass or clear acrylic/plastic but these were not appropriate for an outdoor public space, due to obvious risks associated with breakage and deterioration. The wands were eventually made from stainless steel—dramatically different from the original idea, but suitable for the environment. Research into materials and changes in the project led to costs exceeding the original budget. Although the physical manifestation of the work differs from the original proposal, Janet Laurence maintains that the concept remains the same and has emphasised that not compromising the concept was very important to her. She has said, “I’m still really happy with it as an artwork and I think it is something that did change the environment and did act as an indicator for what was happening on the site.”
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
Many different materials for the wands were explored, most of which had similar environmental footprints in terms of production and substance. Glass would have been the best option environmentally, however, due to the likelihood of breakage it was judged to be impractical for the project. Stainless steel was chosen because it could withstand the weather conditions and is durable. Although there is some energy and waste involved in manufacturing stainless steel, the finished product has no impact on the natural environment so it is suitable to have in the waterway. All materials used in the work were sourced locally from Sydney-based companies and were chosen for their enduring qualities. There have been few replacements to date. The Casuarina trees and bulrushes contribute significant environmental benefits, remediating the former toxic site and providing habitats for local fauna. Casuarinas are nitrogen-fixing trees and can aid in improving contaminated soil.
Laurence, Janet. Artist’s statement for In the Shadow. Provided by the artist, July 10, 2012.
Laurence, Janet. “Concept Design Development: In the Shadow.” Submitted to Olympic Coordination Authority, 2000. On file with artist.
Laurence, Janet. Interview by author, July 10, 2012.