I was pleased to be able get to The Exquisite Wound at Expressions Whirinaki last weekend. I was a little nervous to see the work again, but as I walked into the gallery I unexpectedly got a lump in my throat. The gallery team had created a intimate and contemplative atmosphere and the moving soundscape by Charlie Ha wrapped around the gallery and set the emotional tone. It was lovely to have some dear old friends come along to the artist talk.
I’m writing this lying on a couch in the low afternoon sun in my studio at Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco. I’ve loved my first two weeks of this residency and I felt at home and supported right away. This is due to the welcoming and very capable staff at Headlands, my delightful and talented house mates and the interesting mix of all the artists here. It certainly makes for stimulating conversations during our delicious shared meals.
It turns out I’m not able to make compost while I’m here, as they have a commercial collection service and being a National Park means there are too many restrictions. So to keep my residency sitting lightly on the planet, I plan to make work that is either compostable or exists as pixels only. As much as possible I will use only materials found on site or gathered near by. To my delight during our orientation we were introduced to the storage area where previous artists leave things for anyone else to use. I dip into this on a daily basis.
I’ve been gathering and experimenting with a local seaweed variety that gets washed ashore on Rodeo beach. In Haida (Skidegate dialect), it is called Ihqyaama, in Greek it is called Nereocystis luetkeana (mermaids bladder) and bullwhip kelp is it’s name in English.
I checked about the protocol of collecting what is washed up and it is permitted to take up to 10 pounds per day for recreational use. I was first drawn to it’s characterful look. It’s easy to anthropomorphise as having a body, head and hair. In my research I came across a paper written by Nancy Turner titled “Coastal Peoples and Marine Plans on the Northwest Coast”. In it she describes how it is culturally and environmentally significant in this area.
“It has been identified as a “keystone” marine species, which by their very existence and dominance in the coast environment have tremendous influence over the biodiversity, structure and function of the “kelp forest’ and eelgrass meadow” eco systems along the coastline.”
“Although many of the uses and cultural associations with marine plants are from the past, many still continue, and it is a vision of First Peoples up and down the coast that the traditional knowledge and practices will become even stronger in the future, that their children and grandchildren will be trained in traditional ways as well as modern technology, and, therefore that marine plants will be even more important, culturally and environmentally, in the future than they are at present.”
As the most valued marine plant by The First Peoples of the Northwest Coast in traditional technology it has many purposes. Some of these include; as a mineral rich food, as anchor lines and fishing ropes, in ceremonies to amplify sound, for steaming wood, as storage containers, fashioned into musical instruments and for it’s medical and healing properties.
My practice involves a daily walk on the beach to take notice of the Ihqyaama. Some days I take some back to my studio that has become a biology lead experimental laboratory. By taking the Ihqyaama off the beach, I’ve slowed down the decomposition process. This allows me to work with the daily transmutations. It teaches me to watch, listen and to defer to nature’s immeasurable wisdom. I hope to find my own uses for this extraordinary marine plant. Once I’m finished I will return it to the sea to carry on the decomposition cycle putting the minerals back into the ecosystem.
I am so very grateful for everyone and everything that has supported me to be here. Everyday I am being fed on so many levels.
In a month’s time, I’ll be flying to San Francisco to start the Fulbright Wallace residency at Headlands Art Center. As the work I’ll be making there focuses on our relationship to the earth, my aim is that the residency and what it produces sits lightly on the planet. Living in Aotearoa means the flight itself will be the largest producer of CO2 emissions. So I decided to attempt to offset my flight by making compost in our home and community garden.
I researched the CO2 emissions caused by my flight and how much I could offset that by making compost. The results varied massively. So my carbon footprint calculations aren’t going to stand up to any sort of scientific scrutiny. That said, I’m still interested in keeping track of this. Allowing some creative license, here are my initial calculations.
I spearheaded an initiative for our community garden to receive food scraps from our local Countdown supermarket every week, diverting it from landfill. With this and other materials, I’ve made 12 cubic meters of raw compost, with the support of the other community gardeners.
Over time, that reduced by 75% to 3 cubic metres of finished compost. Depending on the moisture content, this equates to approximately 3 tonnes of rich compost, full of microbes.
Plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into sugars. After the sun sets, these sugars are drawn down the plants’ roots and into the soil as exudates. Spreading compost on plants increases the amount of microbes . These are attracted to the exudates, increase the CO2 that the plant takes out of the atmosphere and lock that carbon up in the soil. One study in America calculated that for every tonne of compost spread around plants, 0.24 tonnes of CO2 is drawn into the soil. By these calculations, my 3 tonnes have given me a credit of 0.72 tonnes of CO2.
In addition, by diverting the food scraps to the compost, we save the CO2 they would have emitted in landfill. According to one American study, every tonne of food scraps reduces the amount of CO2 emissions by 0.46 tonnes. Roughly a third of my 3 tonnes of compost were food scraps, taking my CO2 credit up to 1.18 tonnes.
I chose to use www.chooseclimate.org to calculate what my two flights are really costing the environment. Their calculation was 2.332 tonnes CO2. This means I still have 1.152 tonnes of CO2 to offset. I plan to do this with more compost creation which I hope to continue during the residency. I’ll also be looking into other ways I can keep my footprint light while I’m there.
I have to admit that these figures can in no way measure the absolute joy, peace and sense of interconnection with all life that comes from making compost, growing food in it, eating the produce and putting the scraps into the compost. That’s my real motivation.
Local Composting Initiative
Without fully comprehending why, I’ve recently become obsessed with compost. I take any opportunity to turn a bin, collect fallen autumn leaves, admire the worms multiplying, smell the rich humus and get my hands in a pile to feel the heat generated. I went to a talk about The Magic of Soil by Phil Gregory who was very convincing that that soil sequestering carbon can save us from climate change.
This put a fire in my belly and in collaboration with other local groups, we proposed a local composting initiative to utilise the organic resource produced by households in Tāmaki Makaurau. During World Composting Week, I made a submission to Auckland City Council on behalf of Transition Towns Point Chevalier and Dignan St Community Garden. We joined hands with Kelmarna City Farm and Organic Community Garden, For the Love of Bees, NZ Box Compost Bins and Go Well Consultancy.
It is part of the research I’m doing for the residency at Headlands Art Centre in San Fransisco in September.
The Exquisite Wound in Te Whanganui- a- Tara Wellington.
The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition, is still on at The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts until March 25th. If you are in Te Whanganui- a- Tara and haven’t seen it yet, it is well worth a visit. Check out my two channel video made with composer Charlie Ha, I Am Here.
The Academy Gallery is open daily 10 am – 5 pm at 1 Queens Wharf and entry is free.
The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition
The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards exhibition is about to open in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. It has a selection of 50 of the awards’ finalists and winners. This includes ‘I Am Here’, the video that I made with the amazing composer Charlie Ha.
Some of my personal favourites of this really diverse collection of works are; ‘Haar’ by Jack Trolove, ‘Know Your Meat’ by Teresa HR Lane, and ‘Harmonic People’ by Andy Leleisi’uao, who won the Paramount award.
‘I Am Here’ is from ‘The Exquisite Wound’ exhibition that is touring Aotearoa New Zealand. Future dates will be released as they become available.
The 26th Annual Wallace Art Awards at The Academy Galleries, 1 Queens Wharf, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, from February 19th- 25th March, 2018
Fulbright- Wallace Art Award
At the awards ceremony on September 4th, I was very honoured to win the Fulbright- Wallace residency. I will be going to Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco for three months from September 2018. The application process was rigorous and highly competitive so I was surprised and very excited to find out I was shortlisted. The Director of Fulbright New Zealand, Penelope Borland interviewed me along with four esteemed artists who have all been recipients of the award; Richard Maloy, Ruth Watson, Phil Dadson and Steve Carr.
I Am Here, the two channel video work I made in collaboration with composer Charlie Ha, is in the Wallace Art Awards exhibition, representing The Exquisite Wound. This video and the work of all the finalists and winners can be seen at The Pah Homestead in Auckland until 12th November 2017. The exhibition tours to The Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville and then on to The Academy Galleries, in Wellington.