# 42706

OPPEN, Monica

Do not lament (The song of the axe)

$1,500.00 AUD

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Sydney : the artist, 2018. Oblong quarto, drum-leaf binding (330 x 450 mm), decorated bookcloth, each copy unique, cloth covered clamshell box. Printed in an edition of 7 copies of which 6 are for sale.

The artist has provided the following information about her artist’s book:

“The text for the poem ‘The Song of the Axe’, the title and colophon were transfer printed, the text ‘Do Not Lament’ was offset printed, the numbers on the main image were rubber-stamped. 16 recycled steel plates (I have used the reverse side of previously used photo-polymer printing plates) have been used to create the images. The medium is drypoint printed intaglio. The 8 photographs were transfer printed. The ‘grid’ in the main image was relief-printed off a cardboard block. Paper is Magnani Il Torchio 200 gsm Each cover of each book is unique. The images were created by masking and pushing water based relief ink into the exposed spaces. The process is 2 staged with the process being repeated to get the second colour.

About Do Not Lament (The Song of the Axe)

Reading ‘The Road to Botany Bay’ by Paul Carter I came across an extract from a poem, ‘The Song of the Axe’ by Marie Pitt. I sought out the full poem and was impressed by the joy Pitt expressed in chopping down trees and clearing the land! A key concept in the poem is the link between culture and cultivation– clearing awakens the slumbering land, which then can be cultivated and from the timber cities can be built. Implied is with the cities comes culture.

Since 1925, when the poem was published in Melbourne, extreme land clearing has been recognised by ecologists as an environmental disaster. Yet broad scale clearing continues. Pioneering Australia’s relationship with the land was defined by clearing it, and this attitude still underpins modern Australia’s relationship with the land but devoid of any noble intentions, just for making money. In some sectors there is almost a wilful blindness to the biodiversity and ecological significance of the “bush”.

A high percentage of bushland along the Australian east coast is regrowth forest. Regrowth forest has a particular look with many smaller trees growing closer together. I own a block of land in the Lower Hunter Valley. My block has this characteristic yet it cannot have been severely damaged because I have recorded a high level of plant biodiversity particularly in the understory which is very susceptible to be wiped out. I have put this woodland block under Conservation Agreement because of the endangered species and the threatened ecological communities that have survived on it.

In the series of 10 drypoint images I wanted to plot this regrowth, from cleared land to forested. The book culminates in a main fold out image not of a fully restored forest but a compromised landscape, fragmented and subdivided. That is what the landscape is like in the Lower Hunter Valley. The grid references the 1: 25000 topographically maps on which, aside from roads, tracks, houses, waterways and dams etc., the lots are marked out and numbered. Less than half a kilometre away from my block a new town is being built. The company building this town was required to fund the conversation of a local critically endangered plant and put aside a couple of 100 hectares as an offset. Ironically, the success of the conservation effort allows them to clear. The series photos included in the work are of 2 sites they have cleared and a new road being built. Yet you can still see trees.

In my text ‘Do Not Lament’, I wanted to respond to Pitt’s poem. My text stands at cross purpose to hers, it stands like a forest. It is a lament and in it I witness the falling of trees and, like in hers, acknowledge the appearance of cultivated land and cities on the space that is cleared. I am torn between the urban and the natural. Unlike Pitt’s clarity and sureness, I feel wounded by our actions that are absent of sensitivity and any noble intentions.”

Monica Oppen

September 2018