Robyn Stacey is one of Australia's most acclaimed photographers. Her large and striking images have been exhibited widely in Australia and internationally since the mid 1980s. The early cinematic series, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1985), Redline 7000 (1987-89), All The Sounds of Fear (1990-1992), and Let It All Come Down (1994 AGNSW) were based on film noir and use the collective archive of photography and film to connect with cultural memory.
This fascination with the possibilities of history to inform our present lead to her current obsession with the vast archival repositories of museums and in 2000, Stacey began researching and photographing natural history collections in Australia and overseas. Spending a number of years working with each collection Stacey's pictorially sumptuous photographic images present the eighteenth and nineteenth century specimens, artifacts, and scientific models to a contemporary audience, revealing their aesthetic, social and historical value. Investigating each specimen's material presence she groups and assembles them based on visual strategies drawn from the Dutch still life tradition to the scientific rationalism of taxonomy.
Robyn Stacey's 2009 series Empire Line draws on the collections of the NSW Historic Houses Trust. She selects and then photographs preserved original artifacts to evocatively recreate the lavish interiors of 19th Century estates such as Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House. Stacey's transformation of these historic spaces and objects allows us not only to glance into earlier worlds but also to consider hierarchies of taste, culture and knowledge. Fontaine de Vaucluse for example, brimming with the fruit and vegetables that were originally grown in the grounds of Vaucluse House, is a fecund testament to the enthusiasms and efforts of its owner William Charles Wentworth. Details such as fallen petals on a tabletop or the sheen on a plate of freshly cut salmon give the images an immediacy that suggests the inhabitants of the house are not far away.
Stacey's ongoing project the NSW Historic Houses Trust began with the 2008 series The Great and the Good. Stacey's large-scale photograph Mr Macleay's Fruit and Flora, comprises a baffling array of fruits and flowers. It re-creates the lost botanic gardens of Elizabeth Bay House, once world famous not only for the Australian natives but for the exotics imported from China, India, South America and the Cape of Good Hope. All the plants featured in this photograph are 19th century varieties that would have been seen in the grounds at that time.
The suite of three works in The Great and the Good, are all created around Elizabeth Bay House, which was built by Alexander Macleay when he arrived as Colonial Secretary to NSW in 1826. The painstakingly constructed photographs reference historical painting and artifacts but use contemporary production techniques. Miss Eliza Wentworth's Glassware, for example, contrasts the organic floral content of the other two works, presenting instead a crisp bouquet of crystal glass. The shards of light reflecting from the silvery surfaces create an almost tangible quality, as if the weighty yet delicate nature of the glasses threatens a regrettable breakage.
In November 2007 Cambridge University Press launched Museum, Stacey's interpretation of the scientifically important and historically significant Macleay collection of entomology, held at Sydney University. The contents of the book are available as photographic prints in the Beau Monde series, including the stunning spheres of brightly coloured moths, butterflies, and shimmering Christmas beetles. This publication follows the success of Herbarium, (Cambridge University Press 2004) which offered a unique insight into the collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.
Commissioned by the MCA in 1996 to produce Love Finger, a lenticular 3D image for the exhibition Photography is Dead! Long Live Photography! Stacey refined the illusion of depth and action in the lenticular work to amplify the aesthetic impact of the images. The lenticular works are held in the Australian National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Stacey is the recipient of major awards and research grants, including a number of Visual Arts Board grants and University research grants and was awarded a Samstag Scholarship (1994) to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her artist residencies include the Macleay Museum at Sydney University 2004-6, University of Leiden, Netherlands 2003-06, the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales 2002-ongoing, the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney 2001-3, and the National Center for Supercomputuing Applications at the University of Illinois 1993.
Stacey's works are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of Western Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, and Artbank, as well as numerous university, corporate and private collections.
Her work is studied as part of the New South Wales and Victorian High School Curriculum in the units: visual design, visual art, digital media, and photography. Robyn Stacey has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland, a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales and is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney. Stacey is currently a member of the Visual Arts Board (2006-2008) of the Australia Council.