Sydney-based artist Alex Seton plays with the familiar in unfamiliar ways. Seton’s artistic practice incorporates elements of photography, video, sculpting and installation to investigate the complex relationship between form and substance. He is best known for marble carving and applying it to unexpected forms, whether that is blankets, hoodies, inflatables and national flags. This recreation of ordinary things in marble, disturbs the original purpose of the objects and its textures. Seton’s sculptures are intended to make us think about things, people and moments in time that societies choose to memorialise.
The artwork in question is Alex Seton, As of today… 2011-14, 41 sculpted flags in marble with halyard ART96049.001 – ART96049.041. As the title suggests, this installation piece houses forty-one sculpted flags that each represent an Australian soldier who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Presented appropriately at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, there is no accompanying entry fee. There are free curator led tours of the exhibition offered throughout the week.
Upon first glance of the works, I was confused. I knew nothing of Alex Seton, and the methods and materials he worked with. Walking into the room the piece was installed in; I thought, “Why are there towels on plinths?” I soon found the artists’ statement and was left speechless. What was originally thought to be towels was actually marble, and what they represented was extraordinary. Sculptor, Seton, originally intended this work to be “… as much a testament to our ability to forget or disconnect as it was to the Australian soldiers killed while serving in Afghanistan.” Although there were forty-one of the same things being presented, each one was its own work of art. Each sculptured flag represented a different soldier and the struggle they endured. Each sculpture had different lines and creases that made it its own.
The nature of the room embodied what this was all about. The installation took up an average size room, consisting of four walls and an entryway. The sculptures took up three of these walls, leaving the fourth to showcase the artists’ statements and house handouts for members of the public to take. Being the only objects in the room, ones eye was drawn directly to it, meaning the audience didn’t have to search for any hidden messages or meanings. Soft lighting was used overhead to place emphasis on the plinths and what they held.
This installation relies on the audience being informed about his previous work, to avoid initial confusion. The artists’ statement provides shock factor for audiences who were unaware what this was about in the first place.
“Initially I thought this work was about us- how easily we forget- but it is not about us at all. It is about those who gave their lives and whose memory we now preserve”