Greer Townshend is a Brisbane-based artist whose paper sculptures often reference notions of fragility and memory. In her works, Greer employs techniques in drawing, origami (paper-folding), and kirigami (paper-cutting) to craft miniature interior worlds illuminated by soft light. Greer’s artworks often tell a story, but also evoke memories and explore layers of the subconscious.
Throughout her 2017 Q ANZAC 100 Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland, Greer researched the experience of soldiers and servicepeople during the First World War. Accessing photographs, letters and diaries from the library archive offered Greer deeper insight into the lives of Queensland soldiers, reverends and other wartime workers. Greer continues to translate these stories into her artworks today. Her works encourage us to remember and reflect upon the profound effect of war on soldiers and servicepeople.
Private Herbert Mallyon (Forest) 2020
This artwork by Greer Townshend depicts Private Herbert Mallyon, a young stretcher-bearer from Springsure, Queensland, who was stationed in France during the First World War. Access to Private Mallyon’s personal diaries through the State Library of Queensland allowed Greer insight into his wartime experiences, including the Battle of Deville Wood at the Somme, France in 1916, the event upon which this artwork is based. Describing this battle, Private Mallyon wrote:
Deville Wood where the fierce battle was fought sometime previous has been a death trap for both the enemy and ourselves. Bodies stay lay there unburied in great numbers. It is a horrible sight. The wood itself is nothing but a mass of charred broken timber.
Greer was moved by Private Mallyon’s account, and was interested in the consistent reference to the destruction of nature throughout his diaries. As an archetypal image,the forest represents the unconscious, and conjures up reference to the ‘hero’s journey’, as well as folklore involving magic, danger and immortality. In Private Mallyon’s case, it also references the lush forests surrounding his hometown—in stark contrast to the destruction he saw at war. Private Mallyon died in action in 1917, while serving on the Ypres Front in Belgium. His comrades from the 15th Australian Field Ambulance wrote to his mother expressing their grief:
…Each one of us looked upon him as a tower of strength during the whole of his active service & it is not surprising that his loss is so deeply felt among us.
View the primary documents Greer used to develop this artwork in State Library of Queensland’s catalogue.
Images: Greer Townshend (Palmerston North, New Zealand b. 1978), Private Herbert Mallyon (Forest) 2020 (detail), charcoal, cut paper, courtesy the artist