The plight for safety and survival are concerns investigated by artist Alex Seton; who works primarily with marble to carve objects that are informative of his emotive narrative. Seton’s recent series, ‘Paper Armada’, displayed at Jan Murphy Gallery, depicts the journey undertaken by asylum seekers through the representation of marble boats. These sculptures are suggestive of the risks involved for asylum seekers who have travelled on an ambiguous journey through treacherous and unknown waters towards Australian shores.
The labour-intensive process of carving objects from marble enthrals viewers and exudes curiosity. This artistic approach assists with the communication of Seton’s intention as he advocates for social change within a complex system. Seton says, “Marble has always been associated with privilege and can speak directly to notions of class and hierarchy. As a medium, it has a long history in recording the times and challenges of the day. Creating a marble memorial to an ongoing tragedy is a way of drawing attention to the current humanitarian crisis.”
‘Paper Armada’ is a reaction to the politicisation of the asylum seeker issue facing Australia. Seton addresses Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, which he describes as, “… a crude political solution that ends the humanitarian responsibility of Australia just outside our territorial waters. We can do better.” Seton’s interest in this area stemmed from questioning who we are as a society. He believes the answer is aided by looking at who we keep on the outside of society. This then led to an observation of Australia’s response towards refugees. This concern holds a personal significance for Seton as his mother and her family fled the authoritarian regime of Egypt in the late ’60s and resettled in Australia. He explains that his family, “… have always had a strong sense of gratitude and service to the Australian community for that show of good faith. Tragically, our current policies no longer extend that same good faith, and instead they actively create divisions within our community.”
A multitude of 400 marble boats impose on the gallery space. Seton commenced the project in late 2014, it has been a big physical undertaking. When considered from afar, the works convincingly pass as light-weight ornamental pieces of paper as they share similar creases, folds and frailness. The sculptures, with their deeply precise crevasses and sharply finished edging, make it difficult at first to realise that they are composed entirely out of marble and carved by hand. The concept of taking a significant issue and presenting it in the form of a large-scale installation gives perspective to the scale of this troubling and problematic situation.
Seton’s drive towards bringing awareness to one of Australia’s most highly politicised matters generates a much-needed discussion and hopefully, ‘Paper Armada’ can encourage change amongst public opinions. Seton hopes “… to call attention to this current refugee crisis and the pertaining political responses, and to participate in the dialogue around how our community can adapt to these issues to meet the changing demands. The challenge is to reach through the political rhetoric and remind people of the humanity at the heart of the issue, and to check our own privileges. It could just as easily be us in the same desperate position.”
Jan Murphy Gallery
3 to 28 November, 2015
Flotilla, 2015, Carrara marble, dimensions variable
Photograph: Mark Pokorny
Courtesy the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery, Queensland
Alex Seton in his studio, 2015
Photograph: Mark Pokorny