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Hardwire of Trauma

By July 8, 2022Text

Hardwire of Trauma

Tim Martain

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.

Artist Steve Woodbury standing in front of his latest gunpowder artworks, which are designed to mimic neural connection maps and WWI trench maps in a tribute to the end of the Great War 100 years ago.