A War Memorial commission sent Lyndell Brown and Charles Green to our most current war zones for 10 weeks in early 2007 to capture the Australian essence of war and our contribution to the resolution of those foreign conflicts. The images now showing at the Flinders University Art Museum (State Library) are a mix of large scale photographs and both small and large scale oil paintings.
Last year’s travelling War Memorial exhibition of George Lambert’s works at the Samstag presented some of the first ever commissioned work by our government of similar areas of the Middle East from the First World War. They, like these, captured well the supremacy of the landscape (including here the Ziggurat of Ur) relative to the short term squabbles of the mortals and their weaponry.
What has clearly changed in the intervening years is the military complex associated with those squabbles – some tents and camels near an oasis have been superseded by massive US installations built for utility and semi permanence and not for architectural merit and some of Green’s images capture this well.
Given the nature of Lyndell Brown’s photographic like oil paintings, debate naturally is raised about the relative merits of both forms of art as to which is the better means to capture the essence of our war involvement – the decisive moment or the ability to montage and create scene and emotion from a series of observations. In truth, both work well together.
History painting: market, Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province is not only the most successful of the oils but also a classic in its own right. The intermingling of locals, soldiers, media and the visible venues of imminent battle in the hills beyond is a telling image of fish out of water; the clear air and skies only partially comforting the army from the ever present dangers of the environment they have created.
Afghan National Army perimeter post with chair is a photo that depicts two guards perched atop some makeshift fortress wall, at once both bored by their duty but (to the observer at least) horribly alone to whatever threats may come at them from the hills beyond. Both images from both approaches highly successful in conveying their intent.
It should also be noted, these paintings and images are not of battle scenes, either during or after, but they still carry that poignant tension and menace in both their settings (eg from the window of a Chinook helicopter in flight) and the people depicted (from the Air and Medical Evacuation group) of the inevitable struggles that have been and are to come, all orchestrated by masters far removed from the scene.
As with last year’s Lambert exhibition, this is another fine apolitical representation of the reality of Australian soldiers’ work in our name.
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