August Carpenter

August Carpenter's new body of work mediates between the documented and the speculative, using material from the State Library of Victoria's archives to reflect on climate, loss, and graspability.

Most of The Actions of Storms; sleep movements, 2021, is taken up by black space – the deep, uninterrupted darkness that monotypes can produce. About four fifths of the way up the panel, a horizon line hosts a set of silent, rectilinear forms, drawn into being gently as if through a mist. Below or in front of this land mass, a series of gestural strokes might represent the breaking of a wave on the darkness (they also might “represent” nothing but gesture).

According to a statement by the artist, Carpenter’s recent body of work, showing with Australian Galleries Melbourne as “The Actions of Storms,” makes an amalgam of the experienced and the imagined. The artist, that is, has crafted these sets of printed landscape images which teeter on the brink of abstraction both from documentation and speculation. The “documentation” to which these works respond includes photographs of Antarctic landscapes, the Douglas Mawson diaries, maps and other materials in the Keith Jackson Collection a the State Library of Victoria, which Carpenter was able to access during a research period funded by the Tate Adams Memorial Fellowship. This mediation between the documented – the historical – and the imagined – the future-tensed, or the conditional – is a fitting approach to work which aims to think through problems of loss, dissolution, and graspability in the context of the global climate crisis. 

Carpenter’s work has focussed on changing climates for some time. Having grown up in the densely-populated, skyscraper-filled cities of London and Singapore, she has commented that her move to Australia, and a sense of the scale of the landscape here – as well as the catastrophic weather and climate events which move across it – has fuelled her interest in climate and its effect on landscape. It is certainly possible to read this new body of work, with its series of landscapes gradually becoming more and more overrun with abstract stretches of darkness, as a reflection of and on the climate crisis, and the disappearance and loss it lays over our land. 

However, these works deal interestingly with the idea of “climate” in a broader sense, as well. We might usefully think of “climate” as an overarching, or ambient, set of conditions. Climates of all kinds – environmental, philosophical, emotional, social – have long time scales and wide reaches. With this in mind, Carpenter’s imaginings and deft abstractions come to seem not only reflections on our particular environmental crisis, but on the problem of grasping “climates” in our minds at all. Timothy Morton’s idea of the hyperobject, a thing scaled so massively that it defeats our idea of what a “thing” is to begin with. In these works, we can’t quite settle on what is historical and what is speculative, on what is land and what is air, what is sea and what is paint, or what is a wave and what is a gesture. The answer is probably, in each case: all of the above. Ultimately, Carpenter’s work here is not an attempt to hold too tightly onto either historical material or to certainty about the future. Perhaps, indeed, these things are each too big to hold all of at once. Rather, hers is a work of care: of holding gently onto both individual pieces what we have, and our sense of what we are losing.

EXHIBITION
August Carpenter: The Actions of Storms
24 November – 18 December 2021
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

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