(Currently on loan to the Byron Bay Community and Byron Shire Council.
Located at the Tyagrah Eco-Farm Byron Bay).

Winner of the Peoples Choice Award “ArtsCape” Biennial. Byron Bay NSW Australia 2010
Winner of the “Swell” Sculpture prize for Environmental Art. Currumbin QLD Australia 2010

This sculpture is made from the trunk and root ball of a tree and, was made over a 2 year period between 2008 and mid 2010.
Materials: Camphor Laurel rootball and trunk, organic oil, beeswax & concrete plinths.
Size 4.15 metres Wide x 3.33 metres High x 5.80 metres Long.

Artist statement about the work:

The sculpture “Monumental Environmental Artwork” was made from the trunk and root ball of a Camphor Laurel tree and was made over a 2-year period between 2008 and mid 2010. It initiated with my receiving a call from a local Eco-tourism facility owner, who knew my work. He told me he had a gift for me if I wanted it and I could do what I liked with it. At my first viewing of it, I was pretty mixed with both overwhelm and excitement. I knew the project could be a success having seen smaller versions of tree stumps transformed by fire and elevated into sculptural shapes around the district. I knew that my work with this wood would be unique and preferably highly polished, but it would take a huge amount of work, creative insight and persistence.

Work on this piece began around the beginning of 2008. Firstly I saw that the root ball was completely compacted with very hard black sandy soil. I needed to get a four and a half thousand-psi (pressure per square inch) pressure washer; a very high powered one, to begin the process of cleaning away this embedded soil. I could only just see fragments of some snapped off roots at the surface of the soil, I was aware that underneath the soil there was a whole story waiting to unfold.

I returned again and again to the sculpture over the two-year period with the same pressure washer. Each time I worked on it I was blasting away for 4 to 5 hours a time. I was always decked out in my wetsuit, hat, goggles and my gumboots and usually within the first 15 minutes I was completely black from all of dark sandy soil spitting back at me. I became accustomed to this and actually came to enjoy the process, as I was getting to see further and further what was underneath.

It was really a joy to see this beauty being revealed. Hard work bought out the true essence of this tree and the more I worked on it, the more I feel it spoke to me about what it wanted me to reveal. I just went with it, coming to terms with the regular sense of overwhelm, by simply working on section by section until at the end of each day I had covered a great deal of territory. At one point it became very important for me to start fashioning the overall shape into what I believe became a very streamlined one. There were two trunks coming out the back, I removed one with a chainsaw and the face and overall roundish shape I also determined by the use of handsaws and chainsaws.

Later towards the end, I was able to use grinders, sanding machines and other woodworking tools to smooth off all of the edges and prepare to work for its final air blowing, which removed all of the last fragments of soil and wood shavings. Then it was time for the application of the organic oils, which I ended up applying three coats of. Later as a final gesture, I applied a couple of coats of beeswax mixed with Jojoba oil, which really made the wood sing. As a final way of saluting this monumental piece, I arranged for 2 meticulously prepared concrete polished plinths to be made for the root ball face and trunk where it met the ground. These plinths provided the final elevation of this work into its glory.

Apart from receiving so much assistance with this sculpture from not only the kind eco-farmer, who gave me the tree in its raw state, but also from the various people I employed during the process of finishing it, including art school students, and a French backpacker, who worked tirelessly with me often through the rain, to have the work finished in time for it’s official ‘unveiling’ where it was exhibited as a finalist in the inaugural ArtsCape Biennial.

I was also thrilled to receive the honor of the “People’s Choice Award” at this Biennial, which was held in my hometown of Byron Bay during June and July of 2010 and later in the year I was equally honored to also pick up the prize of the “Dux Environmental Art Award” at the Swell Sculpture Show in Currumbin, Queensland 2010. I learned so much from working with this piece from the actual piece itself. In particular I learned much more about the absolute necessity of staying with the process. I believe this was largely due to the enormity of the actual tree and the complexity of the project.

As this artwork didn’t end up going to a private or public collection following its initial unveiling at the ArtsCape Biennale, I arranged with the Byron Shire Council to have it placed on semi permanent loan to the community where it graced the foreshore directly across from the famous Beach Hotel, built by John Cornell of Crocodile Dundee fame for a period of 3 years. It is now located at the Eco-Farm.

This work is one of the first public artworks the local council has given the go ahead to be placed in the public domain, on a permanent or semi permanent basis and was the result of much debate in council meetings during which I was present.

The key reason underpinning why council passed it unanimously was due to my retaining ‘ownership’, thereby providing my own personal public liability insurance to cover all possible incidences. I protected it with various protective coatings, including anti graffiti spray coats, Hopefully this gesture will encourage other artists from the region to also contact the council too, now that the path has been cleared for this kind of sculptural placement. This area is so abundant with artists and there is very little of it on show out there locally in the public domain. I hope this helps to bring about wanted change.”

John Dahlsen

Sculpture poses a social challenge Gary Chigwidden Byron Shire News| 29th December 2011


ACCLAIMED Byron Bay artist John Dahlsen’s work, Monumental Environmental Artwork, as the name suggests, is hard to miss.

Created from the trunk and root ball of a camphor laurel tree, the massive work weighs 2.75t, is six-metres long, with the root ball standing three-metres high.

Up until last Thursday, it was seen only by visitors to Tyagarah Airport, where it has been displayed since it won the people’s choice award at last year’s artsCape Biennial at Byron Bay.

But from last Thursday, the $30,000 work is being seen by thousands of people every day.

With the approval and support of Byron Council, the work was brought from Tyagarah and put in place on concrete plinths in Byron Bay’s beachfront Apex Park.

John says his long-term loan of the piece to the council is a social experiment.

He hopes people will respect the work and not attempt to vandalise it.

“It’s an educational piece,” he said. “It puts the physicality of a tree right in their face, helping to inform them about the potential for beauty in the mundane.

“It’s also about recycling and its relationship to art.”

John says it’s rare for such a work not to be housed in a private collection.

While corporations commission some public art, there is no statutory requirement in NSW for councils to invest in art as there is in Queensland.

“It’s imperative that we elevate art to its full potential and make it available to everyone in our community,” he said.


Artwork could grace beachfront Gary Chigwidden Byron Shire News | 3rd November 2011

A MAJOR work by award-winning Byron Bay environmental artist, John Dahlsen, may soon have a new home on the town’s beachfront.

Mr Dahslen has offered to lend the work made from the trunk and root ball of a camphor laurel tree to Byron Council to be installed for a minimum of five years.

Called Monumental Art Piece, the work, carrying a $30,000 price tag, won the people’s choice award at the highly successful artsCape Biennial at Byron Bay last year.

The tree, which came from Dieter Horstman’s property at Tyagarah, has been installed at the adjacent airport since last year’s exhibition.

Mr Dahlsen said it was a “pretty significant” piece and would need a particular collector to buy it.

That hadn’t happened, so he said he would love to see it back in the public domain where it could be embraced by the community.

Its location would have to be determined through consultation with the council, but he would like to see it in Apex Park across the road from The Beach Hotel. Byron Mayor Cr Jan Barham will seek the support of other councillors at today’s council meeting to accept Mr Dahlsen’s offer.

Cr Barham said the work would serve as a piece of public art at a small cost to the council.

She said as the peak summer tourist season approached, the installation would improve the beachfront area and provide a focal point for local residents and visitors.

The council would be responsible for transport and installation costs with Mr Dahlsen responsible for public liability insurance.

The Byron Shire Echo ran an earlier article 31/12/10 about the work when it won the peoples choice award at the ArtsCape Biennial.

John’s work takes root in public’s mind. People get involved.
Peolpe get involved with the visitors’ most popular sculpture at this year’s artScape, people’s choice winner John Dahlsen’s ‘Monumental Environmental Artwork’, known to some as ‘The Only Good Camphor’.

Local artist John Dahlsen’s monumental camphor stump, ‘Monumental Environmental Artwork’, has been voted the most popular sculpture in the arts Cape Biennial sculpture exhibition.

Announced by sponsor the Beach Hotel, the artwork celebrates the beauty of the tree’s root system while drawing attention to the problem of camphor laurel infestation in the region. Dahlsen has been working on the sculpture for two years cleaning, sanding, shaping, oiling and  waxing the timber to reveal the tree’s intrinsic beauty.

John Dahlsen wins a luxurious week at the Beach Hotel Resort provided by the Beach Hotel. Unable to collect his prize in person, John commented from China, ‘It’s been a wonderful experience to be part of artsCape again and I am honoured to have been awarded this prize by the visitors to the exhibition, especially when the calibre of artwork is so high.’

The artsCape Biennial event committee was thrilled with the public response to the exhibition. ‘We estimate that over 30,000 people have visited the exhibition, it has been a most popular event for tourists, locals and families during school holidays,’ said Rebecca Townsend. ‘We  would like to extend our thanks to the group of talented artists who have been involved.’


The following is an exerpt from a recent letter to me from a friend: “Madeleine wrote me an email about her trip down to the Swell exhibition and was very taken with your work.  I thought you may like to read what she wrote:”

“Yesterday I drove down to the Gold Coast, Currumbin beach for the annual SWELL exhibition along the beach front. This piece by John Dahlson, entitled “Monumental Environmental Artwork” captured my attention by its shear scale and beauty. He has simply polished it and as he writes …. “I’ve been working on this camphor stump for the past couple of years, simultaneously bringing out its inherent beauty and saving it from an untimely end in a bonfire.” In Australia camphor laurel trees are not native and are often removed as they tend to take over local trees. They have the most beautiful smell when cut, which was very evident when walking around this.”