Artist Alex Seton has always intrigued me. For his incredible charm, of course, but also for the adept way in which he juggles art and craft. Alex makes marble sculptures that he hews himself, wielding a diamond chainsaw with high energy before lovingly sculpting them into shape. If that sounds all romantically Renaissance, the subject matter is hard-hitting, distinctly contemporary. In a world in flux, he is fascinated by current notions of shifting borders, national security and the sometimes scary shift from an offline to an online world. I love the way he takes the inherent heaviness and permanence of marble and applies it to objects that are intended to be light, transient, safe. At this year’s Adelaide biennale (titled Dark Heart) he installed scattered and damaged lifejackets, carved from his trademark marble, a beautiful tribute to the asylum seekers who drowned the year before. His new installation at Sullivan+Strumpf is called Refoulement (in French, it means ‘repression’ or ‘backflow’ ) and it’s the opposite of Non-refoulement, which is the principle of International Law that is meant to prevent asylum-seekers and refugees being turned back. It’s a serious issue, of course, but the installation is also extremely engaging on the aesthetic plane. Two oversized ‘inflatable’ souvenir palm trees – the kind of things a tourist might buy – are carved from marble and perched on a rubble island, on the ground floor. Upstairs, one of the Zodiac boats we played in as kids, and of which larger versions are used to transport refugees to places of supposed safety, is deflated and left leaning against a wall. Three more life-jackets remind us of their one-time wearers.
We all know this is a major issue, and that the victims are in hell. I think work like Alex’s serves to increase awareness and stimulate a productive conversation. It’s powerful stuff, beautifully made, and imminently collectible. I hear the show sold out in a flash. Luckily though, Alex is pretty prolific, considering the unwieldy nature of his medium – he can turn out about 30 works per year!