pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

eX de Medici, Aus­tralia, Spe­cial Forces (Every­where Cur­rent), Veg Pat­tern, 2007, 2010. Drawn in Can­berra, 2010. Collection of the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial. Pur­chased in 2011. On dis­play, Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial, Can­berra, un­til Septem­ber.

IN March 2009, Can­berra-based artist and tat­tooist eX de Medici ful­filled a long­stand­ing am­bi­tion when she was cho­sen as an of­fi­cial war artist, a tra­di­tion that dates back to World War I.

De Medici, who has an in­ter­est in con­tem­po­rary war­fare, was com­mis­sioned by the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial to record the peace­keep­ing mis­sion of the Aus­tralian troops in Solomon Is­lands.

It was, how­ever, a post­ing that would test her met­tle as an artist. She was em­bed­ded with the Aus­tralian De­fence Force dur­ing the wet sea­son, and the un­re­lent­ing rain made it im­pos­si­ble for her to sketch out­doors or even to com­plete paint­ings. She re­sorted to tak­ing hun­dreds of pho­to­graphs: of the troops, of for­mer bat­tle sites, new mil­i­tary bases, air­craft and all man­ner of weapons.

She also kept a per­sonal jour­nal, record­ing her ob­ser­va­tions and con­ver­sa­tions.

Once back home in Can­berra, she used this ma­te­rial to pro­duce a se­ries of 26 works on paper high­light­ing the com­plex­ity of the peace­keep­ing oper­a­tion. She de­picted the day-to-day work of the ADF and the Solomon Is­lan­ders, but also ex­plored broader is­sues such as coloni­sa­tion and for­eign ex­ploita­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources.

One of de Medici’s wa­ter­colours fea­tur­ing an Aus­tralian sol­dier’s hel­met is on dis­play at the Aus­tralian War Me­mo­rial. When I visit Can- berra, I’m shown Aus­tralia, Spe­cial Forces (Every­where Cur­rent), Veg Pat­tern, 2007, 2010 by the me­mo­rial’s head of art, Ryan John­ston, who says that her im­ages of hel­mets are “re­ally quite ex­tra­or­di­nary”.

“The hel­mets are an in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment in her ca­reer,” he says. “Even though she had done a lot of work pre­vi­ous to this on skulls, the hel­met is be­com­ing a kind of syn­onym with the skull.

“An­other in­ter­est­ing thing is her use of wa­ter­colour. It is a con­ser­va­tive medium and it is like a vel­vet glove ap­proach al­most. The idea is to have these beau­ti­ful wa­ter­colours, which se­duce you into what be­comes a very loaded and very com­plex so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­men- tary. She is mak­ing analo­gies be­tween the con­tem­po­rary mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Pa­cific and the his­tory of coloni­sa­tion in the re­gion.”

De Medici, who was born in re­gional NSW in 1959, stud­ied paint­ing in Can­berra, then moved to Los Angeles to be­come a tat­too artist. For many years she has worked with the im­age of the skull, which she de­scribes as the “ul­ti­mate sig­ni­fier in tat­too­ing”.

It also ref­er­ences the van­i­tas tra­di­tion. Of her use of wa­ter­colour, she has said that while it may not be con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous medium, she has al­ways been at­tracted to “things deemed not in­ter­est­ing or un­wor­thy in the high-sta­tus stakes: biro, coloured pen­cil, pho­to­copy, tat­too­ing, wa­ter­colour and nat­u­ral his­tory”.

While John­ston and I ex­am­ine her im­age of the sol­dier’s hel­met with its veg­e­ta­tion cam­ou­flage, it is ev­i­dent it is drawn with an al­most sci­en­tific at­ten­tion to de­tail, a skill she de­vel­oped while an artist-in-res­i­dence at the CSIRO. Also ev­i­dent is her use of gold leaf, al­most evoca­tive of the old Byzan­tine icons, and added as a com­ment on the sta­tus of soldiers in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety.

“One of the rea­sons I love eX’s work in this con­text is that, in this time of highly tech­nol­o­gised war­fare, there is still this amaz­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” says John­ston.

“And I think the re­ally in­ter­est­ing thing with eX is that she takes a con­tem­po­rary con­flict in Solomon Is­lands and works in a very long his­tory of con­flict and coloni­sa­tion with these com­pli­cated art his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. It is a very rich work to look at, and it re­wards com­ing back on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.”

Wa­ter­colour and gold leaf on paper. 57.2cm x 76.4cm

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