I have to admit I’m a bit of a gaping ‘but the emperors naked’ kind of gal when it comes to modern art. I prefer things that I can recognise and associate with, as opposed to the completely abstract. The writer in me always wants to know the story behind the piece of art. What was the context? How did the artist doing come up with the idea? What was their real inspiration? Did the pile of bricks fall over and need to be re-glued?
Interestingly, all four of these sculptures intrinsically caught my attention, despite my leaning towards the ‘artistic philistine’ end of the highbrow scale. I completely forgot about my camera, and it took two circuits of the garden paths before I even took a single photo.
1. Chris Booth of Kerikeri – Aramoana. For me, the name Aramoana conjures memories of walking out the Mole to the black and yellow pole lighthouse, and the 1990 massacre. To me the sculpture seemed part ‘old school’ power pole (similar to the ones that still stand on the West Coast), mated with a ships mast. I guess a shipping theme is appropriate for the Port Chalmers setting. Further research uncovered that Chris was actually making a statement about and a protest against a proposed aluminium smelter out at Aromoana in the early 1980’s.
2. Shona Rapira Davies - They do cut down the poles that hold up the sky. This reminded me of the Maori creation story where Tane created space for the world to grow by pushing Ranginui – Sky Father and Papatūānuku – Earth Mother apart. At the same time, in a more literal sense the figure seems to be breakdancing on bricks. I got a shot of smugness when I found out I was right on the money with the creation story, although Shona was also commenting on deforestation and the need for conservation.
3. Brick Column – Russell Moses of Palmerston North. I thought this was a little bit like a smaller more ceramic version of Len Lye’s 45 metre high ‘Windwand’ in New Plymouth, combined with the chimney at the Brunner Mine site just out of Greymouth.
Supposedly the bricks are symbols of the land and man’s attempt to tame and control the landscape. Turns out these particular bricks also have an interesting history. In the late 1800’s, the bricks arrived in New Zealand as ballast aboard ships that sailed from Scotland. The sculpture is also meant to reflect the history of bricks and was made in the shape of a kiln. The iron bar on top is from one of the Port’s now gone ship building sites, and like the ‘Windwand’ it once swung round in the breeze. Today it points firmly to towards the Port of Otago.
4.The ‘Black Phoenix II’ by Ralph Hotere - This was my favourite, it has an airy ‘Take your last breath before we go under’ feel about it. The word ‘Phonenix’ is literal, this is the actual hull of the Poitrel, and its keel really did rise from ashes to become a piece of art. It was once a fishing vessel that was caught in a fire at Miller and Tunnage (a boat-building firm) in 1984.
Given that this garden is free and only a fifteen minute drive from the Octagon I think it rates as one of Dunedin’s, possibly New Zealand’s hidden, sparklingly good gems. It‘s not just about the sculptures either, the views of the Dunedin harbour and the landscaped native garden are also matchless.