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Never-ending task in the art of sacrifice

Date

Kate Corbett

Sculptor Alexander Seton with his work  <i>Six More</i>, a marble representation of six folded ceremonial flags, commemorating Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Sculptor Alexander Seton with his work Six More, a marble representation of six folded ceremonial flags, commemorating Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Photo: Graham Tidy

Artist Alexander Seton has created a grim and ongoing battle for himself.

Every time an Australian soldier dies in Afghanistan, Seton has devoted himself to sculpting from marble a perfectly folded flag to signify the sacrifice.

''That's the heartbreaking task, why I say it's a dedicated act,'' Seton said at the Australian War Memorial on Monday, where six of his recent works were unveiled.

''For everyday Australians it's very easy to simply put the casualties on the television and on the news announcements in the back of your mind … but when you're actually devoted to an act that is associated with it you are aware of the fact that another individual has perished on behalf of all of us.''

The project came to the sculptor quite naturally while he was doing a study on the symbolism of the Australian flag.

''I came to start thinking of it [the flag] as a living, breathing entity and also what is asked in its name today, and, of course, the ultimate sacrifice of those soldiers in Afghanistan in an ongoing conflict,'' Seton said.

Seton's original work As of Today, completed in early 2011, was a group of 23 marble sculptures, each carefully crafted into the shape of a folded up life-size Australian flag. Each represented a soldier who had died in Afghanistan.

But Seton realised the project was far bigger than he had first envisaged on the night that work was first exhibited - May 23, 2011.

On that night another Australian soldier died in Afghanistan - Sergeant Brett Wood, who was killed by an improvised explosive device.

''It was quite a moment, standing in the gallery realising this work will be a continuing, ongoing, dedicated task and that casualties and bodies and the numbers would continually increase,'' Seton said.

Sergeant Wood was the 24th Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The series of sculptures unveiled at the Australian War Memorial on Monday, titled Six more, represents six fallen soldiers - Sergeant Brett Wood, Lance Corporal Andrew Jones, Lieutenant Marcus Case, Sapper Rowan Robinson, Sergeant Todd Langley and Private Matthew Lambert.

Lance Corporal Jones, 25, was on his first deployment to Afghanistan when he was shot and killed by a rogue member of the Afghanistan army on May 30, 2011. Lieutenant Case, 27, died in a helicopter crash on the same day. One week later, Sapper Robinson, 23, died in action. Sergeant Langley, 35, was shot and killed on July 4, 2011, on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan and Private Lambert, 26, was killed in an explosion on August 22, 2011.

There have been another 10 diggers killed since Seton completed this series and he is working hard to keep up.

''I hadn't realised I had bitten off more than I could chew,'' Seton said sadly, while stressing his work was not an attack on the army but merely an observation on human sacrifice.

''It's not anti-war, it's not pro-war, it's simply an emphasis on the sheer number of casualties, a prompt to remember the human costs of war,'' he said.

Seton said he would love to see an institution like the Australian War Memorial buy the entire work.

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