August Carpenter is a Melbourne based artist and printmaker whose work focuses on the climate, and climate-impacted landscape. She utilises a variety of printmaking methods to record what we have already lost, and to imagine the scale of what we will lose.
In the following blog post, we chat to August about her inspirations, her choice of technique and her recent State Library Fellowship.
My first awareness, or maybe understanding, of art came together from a retrospective of Helen Chadwick’s work that was shown at the Barbican in 2004. It was an exhibition my Mum took me to, and she took me around slowly explaining the different works and how they had been made. It was a standout show, particularly the ‘Viral Landscapes’ series and ‘Piss Flowers, 1991-92’. This body of work is one I consistently return to; particularly the way she was able to balance art and science with her focus on unconventional, often grotesque, materials that were at the same time undeniably beautiful. Additionally, my Mum is a painter and I grew up in her studios, quite literally under the table, and at the university where she taught drawing. There was a subconscious awareness to watching her paint from such a young age that I will be forever grateful to. Having now shared similar experiences – it’s a particular connection that I feel privileged to have been exposed to and continue to enjoy.Why do you choose monotypes and why landscape? Do they inform each other?
I fell in love with monotypes, as a medium, by happenstance. Coming from a background in painting and drawing, I had had little practical exposure to printmaking until I started producing artist book works under the umbrella of 5 Press. Monotypes, at the start, were an accessible technique – there was no need for acid baths or specific tools. There’s a moment of magic when you first pull back the paper that has never gone away; I’m not sure if it’s to do with working in reverse, or the unexpected details that can appear, but I am hooked.
The focus on landscape has come from growing up in the densely populated, skyscraper filled, cities of Singapore and London. When I moved to Australia I was blown away by the sense of scale and history that is visible in the landscape. These contrasting experiences fed an anxious awareness of escalating climate events. In Singapore you have this paradox of rapid construction, the country’s landmass itself is growing upwards and outwards at a phenomenal speed, whilst at the same time it sits on the peripheral of catastrophic weather events; the tsunamis’, earthquakes, flooding, fires and haze that happen in South East Asia. In Australia, again everything seems amplified, the terrifying scale of the bushfires, the years of drought, the mass extinction events and the devastation from the mining and forestry industries. My focus on landscape has come from a need to try and document these things that are happening, to try and understand what has happened and what might.Do you work in other mediums?
I spend a lot of time drawing, especially during these lock down months. I also make artist books with and alongside 5 Press; Cheralyn Lim, Sarah McConnell, Jaime Powell and Sophie Westerman. We met whilst studying at the VCA, and reconnected a few years later at the inaugural Melbourne Art Book Fair (2015). Realizing we were all independently making artist books in various forms, we got together to investigate the artist book and/or object further, through utilizing and pushing traditional printmaking and book binding techniques. This year we celebrated 5 years of working and exhibiting together!
The artist book is a unique and personal object. There is so much movement available in the viewing or experience of an artist book, specifically when it is paper based, that can be incredibly intimate. By putting the artist book in someone’s hands, handing over the control of its experience to the viewer, I think there is something in that tactile moment. Reading is such a personal activity and I think that action and association translates automatically to an artist book. I am completely fascinated, be it by making or by looking at them.Tell us a little about your exciting State Library Fellowship and your time at Baldessin Press
The State Library Fellowship has been an incredible opportunity. To be able to access the library’s collections in the way that the fellowships allow, has been invaluable. I have been looking at early trans-Antarctic exploration photographs, the Douglas Mawson diaries, maps and other materials in the Keith Jack Collection, to imagine the coastlines of Antarctica, how they have changed, and how they are changing in the current climate. The end result of the fellowship will be a series of unique state artist books that hold a very fine, almost translucent outlook of a coastline that existed for a brief moment in time. I’m fascinated by this idea of an environment that can change so rapidly and so physically that each brief moment that it’s seen in is completely unique.
Baldessin Press is a beautiful studio to work in and so far, as part of the fellowship, I have made two trips to St Andrews to stay and work at the studio. It is a truly special thing to be able to stay above the workshop and to have the invaluable support of Silvi & Tess. It will be lovely to go back and print the final book works!Favourite book/literature
I have a copy of each of the first books that we made as 5Press. They are, without a doubt, my favourite books. There was something intrinsically naive yet vibrant about these particular books that we made, and we were so proud of them. As a group we have since made a total of 65 artist books, but those first 5 would definitely still have to be my favourite.
That is truly a tricky question. So much of the last few months has been spent reliving memories. It’s those little moments that I have missed the most, so I will say a favourite memory would be early morning coffee on the balcony with my family.
What are you most looking forward to doing when COVID is over?
I’m looking forward to spending time with friends & family. Distance, if just down the road or a country away, it’s not an easy thing. I’m also looking forward to walking down the road and seeing people’s faces!
Tate Adams Memorial Fellowship
August is the inaugural recipient of the Tate Adams Memorial Fellowship Residency at State Library Victoria & Baldessin Press. The residency is offered to an artist to accomplish a limited edition or unique state artist’s book, using research from the State Library of Victoria and the studio facilities at Baldessin Press and Studio. August’s resultant work is titled Terra Incognita.
This series of monoprints depict the rapidly changing horizon lines of glacial landscapes along the Antarctic Ice Shelf. Utilizing cartographic material and early exploration photographs (glass lantern slides) from the Keith Jack Collection, this series aims to provide an emotive visualization to the monumental importance of this still largely unknown landscape that is currently deteriorating at an unprecedented rate.
This project takes reference to the early imagined landscapes of the Southern Hemisphere referred to as ‘Terra Incognita Australis,’ endeavouring to provide document to the irreversibly changing coastline of a place we have barely known. In this way, August’s project is not only a re-visualization of early records, but also an imagining of what we will lose due to human influence.
In The Stock Room
Studies for Terra Incognita are featured in our current group exhibition, ‘Now & Then.’ Click here to view more.
Image above: August Carpenter Studies for Terra Incognita #3 2020 monotype on kozo paper unique 13 x 43 cm (framed)
Image above: August Carpenter Studies for Terra Incognita #4 2020 monotype on kozo paper unique 13 x 43 cm (framed)
Image above: August Carpenter Studies for Terra Incognita #6 2020 monotype on kozo paper unique 13 x 43 cm (framed)