I’m not long back from a kayaking trip in the Kingdom of Tonga, where I managed to do some sketches of some things I saw while riding around on the local buses. At the local market I had the great fortune of being able to meet and chat with some local Tongan artists, eat some pineapple cake and observed a demonstration of traditional Tongan wood carving, which has its very own distinctive style, which is notably different from the Maori carvings in New Zealand or the early pacific figure carvings in Auckland museum. Out on the kayak I managed to avoid encountering the tiger sharks I had heard so much about and paddled past the King’s beach and cheeky fruit bats flying around and hanging upside down in trees, looking a bit like fruit themselves. I also saw a huge humpback whale breach right out of the water further out ahead of my kayak. An absolutely humbling moment to observe. The humpback whales rear their young around the islands of Tonga before beginning their migrations around the globe. Tonga also is the first country in the world to begin a new day, and in tribute, I placed a hand carved figure I made facing the sea on a deserted beach.
Back in Aotearoa, I have been working in collaboration over the past 6 months with New Zealand based Sculptor Lucy Bucknall on a project titled ‘Flotilla’ which we just finished installing as part of the ‘Sculpture in the Gardens’ sculpture festival at Auckland Botanic Gardens. ‘Flotilla’ became a working title and loose framework for both artists to contribute to sculpting a raft of outdoor figures with criss-crossing narratives, all travelling over water. The materials and techniques used, raft like, are bound together, incorporating traditional figurative sculpture, bronze welding, steel fabrication, resin casting, modelling compounds, recycled kayak plastic, DIY sub aquatic engineering and painting.
Lucy Bucknall (http://www.lucy-bucknall.co.nz/) is a highly regarded Bronze sculptor based in New Zealand, and won The McConnell Family Supreme Award for her sculpture ‘Big Man’ at Sculpture in the Gardens 2011/2012. A shared interest in zoomorphic sculptural forms, comedy and outdoor sculpture led to the 6 month collaboration based out of Lucy’s wonderful hilltop studio in her garden which the Bucknall family share with two cats and four chickens! Inspired by New Zealanders love of water craft and historical links to the sea, Lucy and I began exploring the idea of boats, kayaks and watercraft acting as the plinths in Flotilla for contemporary figurative and zoomorphic sculptures to be displayed in one of the ponds in the Gardens.
To get a heavy sculpture to sit level in a lake full of water, and appear to be floating was deceptively challenging. To cut a long story short, we ended up calling in the expertise of my brother Ewan to give us a hand, who just so happens to be a structural engineer, scuba diver and all round legend – how convenient. We designed the armature so that it incorporated 3 car scissor jacks so the whole structure can be raised, lowered and tilted to sit exactly where we need it in the water.
Although I have ran my own fairly well stocked studio in the past, I arrived in New Zealand with a small tool roll of sculpting tools, sketch book and some clothes in a bag that had to weight less than 25kg, so to build flotilla we had to source a wide range of specialist tools and materials in a fairly short period of time. Most sculptors spend years building up their studio and sources for materials and tools. A significant part of the project was trekking around the city on tip offs from people I’ve met here about where things can be found in New Zealand and what they are called over here. I ended up in some fascinating places and met some absolutely wonderful people.
The project was quite different to any sculpture project I have been involved in before, since a huge part of the work would be getting sunk beneath the water in the lake and ice berg like, only the tip of the structure would be visible from the surface. There was an awareness that although we had a huge amount of work to complete, on this variable and fairly technical sub aquatic armature - in completion, the viewable part of the sculpture above the water would be fairly subtle on the water, like a little group of ducks cruising along the waters surface. Another challenging aspect of the installation was that if we got it wrong (and you never know how a sculpture will really work until you make it and install it...) 6 months of sculpting could end up 3 meters at the bottom of the lake where only the botanic gardens eels would get to see them. Many months of sculpting, welding, mold making, spray painting, and retrieving escaped chickens from neighbours gardens later, team waders completed the installation, and ‘Flotilla’ drifted into Sculpture in the Gardens.
This is the fourth biennial Sculpture in the Gardens, and it is without a doubt one of the best outdoor sculpture exhibitions in New Zealand. The exhibition, curated by Alexa Johnston, Rachel de Lambert and Richard Mathieson, can attract over 300,000 visitors during its run. In the 2013/1014 show there are 23 large scale outdoor sculptures set on a 2km garden trail, an indoor exhibition of smaller work, and a concept sketch gallery in the visitor centre. The exhibition is open daily 9am - dusk and admission is free, with special events such as live music and free guided walks scheduled for the duration of the show.
New work in the exhibition by, Jim Wheeler, Samantha Lissette, Neil Miller, Christine Hellyar, Bing Dawe, Michael Klaja & Gordon Smith, Marte Szirmay, Mia Hamilton, Jamie Pickernell, Todd & Karuna Douglas, James Kirkwood, Llew Summers, Bryan Verey, Ben Foster, Oliver Stretton-Pow, Richard Wedekind, Jane Downes, Jeff Thomson, John Edgar, Rory McDougall, Louise Purvis, James Wright.
Sculpture in the Gardens runs from 9 November 2013 - 16 February 2014
Free Admission, 7 days from 9am - Dusk @ Auckland Botanic Gardens,
Hill Road, Maurewa, South Auckland.
You can watch video interviews with each of the artists and find out more information about sculpture in the gardens here: www.aucklandbotanicgardens.co.nz
I would also like thank those who also helped in the making of Flotilla with their advice, assistance and inspiration: The Bucknall Family, The curatorial team and artists of Sculpture in the Gardens 2013/2014, All the staff and wildlife at Auckland Botanic Gardens, all my friends at Aquatx Mount Wellington, Ewan Mac Vicar, The overseas MacVicar family, Chanella Bacon, Jim Wheeler, Richard Mathieson, all my friends at Grand Central & big up to the Aotearoa Reggae family - you know who you are.
(I'll upload some images from the exhibition and the making of Flotilla to the image gallery over the next few days).