Steve Wood­bury has found a unique way to look at WWI.


Gun­pow­der artist Steve Wood­bury has found a unique and fit­ting way to com­mem­o­rate the 100th an­niver­sary of the World War I Ar­mistice this week. His lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion, What Fires To­gether, Wires To­gether, fea­tures a se­ries of art­works de­pict­ing a com­bi­na­tion of neu­ral maps and World War I trench maps, all cre­ated us­ing his tech­nique of paint­ing gun­pow­der paste onto pa­per, li­nen or poly­styrene and ig­nit­ing it un­der pres­sure, lead­ing to a con­trolled burn and the dis­tinc­tive scorch pat­terns.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, on show at the Henry Jones Atrium in Hunter St, was partly in­spired by Wood­bury’s own fam­ily con­nec­tions to the Great War.

“My grandad fought in the war and, be­ing a coun­try boy, he be­lieved in the ‘one shot, one din­ner’ phi­los­o­phy, and when he was posted as a ma­chine gun­ner he hated just end­lessly pour­ing bul­lets out over the trenches,” Wood­bury says.

“At one point his su­pe­rior of­fi­cer hit him across the back of the head with a shovel and told him he had to keep fir­ing to make sure the Ger­mans kept their heads down. Grandad was gassed twice and shot once but he sur­vived the war.

“And my great un­cle was also in the war, but he was killed by an ar­tillery shell on the West­ern Front in the fi­nal days of the war.”

Wood­bury says th­ese sto­ries started him think­ing about ge­netic mem­ory, and to what ex­tent th­ese trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences might be­come “hard­wired” and “pre-loaded” into the neu­rons and bod­ies of sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions.

“Some­thing that made me won­der, also, was the fact that I had se­vere back prob­lems when I was younger, and my brother had hip prob­lems, and both of those areas cor­re­spond to where my great un­cle was hit and killed in 1918, so the co­in­ci­dence re­ally stood out for me,” he says.

Neu­ral maps are a way of chart­ing the path­ways that are formed when the brain cre­ates a new mem­ory or pro­cesses a new ex­pe­ri­ence, and the sim­i­lar­ity be­tween th­ese charts and cen­tury-old or­ganic-look­ing trench maps struck Wood­bury as fit­ting.

He is also about to launch a book of orig­i­nal po­etry along sim­i­lar themes called Whis­pers From The West­ern Front, and he has a re­lated col­lec­tion of gun­pow­der art­works, which is be­ing ex­hib­ited at Villers-Bre­ton­neux in France for the 100th an­niver­sary.

But, some­what iron­i­cally, they went miss­ing some­where in Ger­many dur­ing ship­ping and had to be tracked down.

“I guess they got cap­tured by the Ger­mans af­ter all, but they were lo­cated and in­stalled in France as in­tended,” he laughs.

What Fires To­gether, Wires To­gether, gun­pow­der art by Steve Wood­bury, is on show now at the Henry Jones Atrium in Hunter St, Ho­bart

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