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Waiheke Island sculpture trail features marvellous art in marvellous location

The New York Times says you must go to the Headlands exhibition

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 03 Feb 2017

Headland Sculpture on the Gulf
Waiheke Island
Until February 19

A couple of years ago, the New York Times put Waiheke Island and the Headland Sculpture exhibition at no 35 (out of 46) of important places to see internationally.  Headland keeps getting great reviews and this year’s display, although not as impressive as some in the past, should delight and inspire the expected 60,000 plus visitors.

This year’s show attracted 230 proposals which were whittled down to 50 before the final selection of 34. The selectors have attempted to provide a range of works from the minimalist through to the elaborate, from works which are purely conceptual to ones which are social; and cultural investigations.

Most of the works fall into some general themes, with the artists having to grapple with the site, the history of the area, the technical constraints of the construction and the installation. Several of the works acknowledge the history of Waiheke, the headland and Matiatia.

Sculptures in the breeze

A simple untitled work by Jim Speers and Guo Zixuan bookends the entire exhibition with its conflation of the notions of life and death, of creativity and the importance of place. The work consists of two signs located at the start and finish of the walk. The untitled work consists of lines from the famous contemporary Chinese poet Gu Cheng who settled on Waiheke in the 1980s. In October 1993, he attacked his wife with an axe before hanging himself. The text combines aspects of visions of the landscape the immigrant culture and the creation of artworks.

One of the first works in the show is by Phil Price, known for his elegant organic sculptures activated by the breeze. Forbidden Tree, a large purple work consisting of three branches and numerous leaves is both part of the landscape with its tree-like shape but also an alien intervention with its colour jarring in the green landscape.

Another work which seems out of place is Jon Hall's Off Cuts’ ($29,000), which consists of misshapen lumps of steel, objects left over from some industrial operation, part of our industrial heritage. However, like many of the artefacts created by Waiheke artists they have been specially forged by the artist.

Jae Kang’s Whimori ($15,000) initially seems like a collection of discarded metal shapes, the burnt out remains of a zeppelin. The artist has used agriculture piping to create the large organic shape sitting on or rising out of the ground, the piping like the remains of a three-dimensional drawing by a giant.

Anton Parsons has created Myopia ($60,000), a simple five-metre-high steel pole embedded with stainless steel circular blocks. The work connects with his many works that have referenced the idea of braille as a language, a work to be touched and felt rather than seen.

There are a few other tower-like works including Chris Booth’s impressive Kinetic Fungi Tower ($25,000), a nine-metre-tall work consisting of grapevines woven together in a celebration of the wine industry of the island.

A smaller tower work is Brett Graham’s Te Tumu ($98,000), which look like a fort or a castle chess piece. The artist sees it as a reference to the idea of the stump or foundation in Maori and references the stone altar (tuahu) of the early Polynesian seafarers, which was used to make claims on the land they encountered.

Hidden gem

The most minimalist work is Dane Mitchell’s Buried Gemstone ($21,000). The artist has buried (so we are told) a gem in an undisclosed place on the headland. Rather than inviting the viewers to dig for the precious stone, the artist is inviting the viewer to think about the nature of art, art that doesn’t impact on the landscape. However, in the pop-up gallery at the Headlands Pavilion, the artist has provided a couple of ambivalent clues. Here one can find a drawing showing the gem buried in the earth ($2800) or a copper electroplated spade ($3650) suitable for surreptitious digging or a divining rod ($2185).

Jeff Thomson's Mesh is a corridor of coloured perforated steel sheets the viewer walks through. It is like walking through an enchanting old English garden bower with dappled light and coloured flowers and bushes enfolding and soothing the walker. Thomson says he was inspired by the painting Pohutakawa Rina by Evelyn Page in which filtered sunlight creates camouflage for the nude bodies of the figures.

Tiffany Singh’s installation The Journey of a Million Miles Begins with One Step was created with assistance from the Auckland Resettlement Coalition and references the journeys of refugees to New Zealand. Singh has used four derelict dinghies found on Waiheke and created small shelters adorned with blankets and textiles. Accounts of nine refugee journeys read by notable New Zealanders along with music and sounds can be heard inside the shelters.

Several other works refer to journeys and boats, such as Matt Ellwood’s memorial to the failed attempt to create a marina for Matiatia Gone but not Forgotten ($22,000) and Kazu Nakagawa and Helen Bowater’s Carving Water Painting Voice. Virginia King has created a trio of boat/leaf shapes Phantom Fleet ($$51,000-56,000) which hang from a tree floating in the breeze.

Gregor Kregar’s The Glass Room is a large six-metre circular room made of handmade recycled glass blocks embedded with neon. The work combines both the solidity of the building block and the fragility of the glass providing a temple to sunlight and neon lights. The artist notes that the work references Carl Andre and his artworks in bricks.

There is a sound work, Spirits of the Flax ($10,500) by Olivia Webb, a large bronze work Fantail on a Ring by Paul Dibble ($95,000) and Michael Tuffrey has created Trailing Tangaroa ($22,000) a whimsical conch shell made of black and yellow jandals.

Better than the art

The most impressive inclusion in this year’s Headlands show and not one of the artworks is an architectural work constructed by staff and students of Unitec. Gateway was designed by architects Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson and engineer Hamish Nevile. The work was originally intended to be the New Zealand entry in the Vernice Architectural Biennale of 2012.

At a distance, it looks like a blow-up version of a child’s wooden model of a dinosaur or a half-completed construction. It consists of a series of progressively off-centre beams whose shapes are an abstract version of the façade of a Maori whare. It follows in the tradition of several galleries like the Serpentine in London, which commissions new pavilions each year. Gateway references some of these previous constructions, such as the work of Daniel Libeskind and Frank Gehry.

The other great artworks which some visitors are able to experience is the fleet of Jaguars provided by one of the major supporting companies. Jaguar is providing trips to the start of the exhibition walkway as well as test drives.

John Daly-Peoples
Fri, 03 Feb 2017
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Waiheke Island sculpture trail features marvellous art in marvellous location