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Peter Biggs To Talk At New York Business Briefing

Creative New Zealand Chair, Peter Biggs, to talk to Asia Society Business Briefing in New York

Creative New Zealand Chair Peter Biggs will take the stage at a New York business briefing tomorrow, speaking about this country's creativity and the emergence of an "imagination economy" where creativity and innovation are prized above all else (see speech attached).

Supported by Investment New Zealand, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Tourism New Zealand, the briefing coincides with the New York opening of the
Paradise Now? exhibition and is tailored to high-level executives, investors and policy-makers.

Mr Biggs is also Managing Director of the advertising agency Clemenger
BBDO and a member of the Prime Minister's Growth and Innovation Advisory Board. A highly sought after speaker, he will tell his audience that New Zealand's "artists, creative thinkers and other entrepreneurs of the imagination" are changing the way New Zealand is looking at the world and the way the world is looking at New Zealand.

Other speakers include Research, Science and Technology Minister Pete Hodgson, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States John Wood, and New Zealand Film Commission Chief Executive Ruth Harley.

The business briefing is part of New Zealand and the Pacific Century, a series of Asia Society spring programmes about New Zealand. The programme includes artists' talks, performances and a film series.


ISLANDS OF IMAGINATION

By Peter Biggs,
Chair: Creative New Zealand
Managing Director: Clemenger BBDO

Business Briefing, Asia Society, February 24, 2004

Te whare e tu nei,
(To the house that stands here,)
papatuanuku ki waho:
(to the earth mother:)
Tena korua.
(Greetings to you both.)
Ka tangi ki a ratou kua wheturangitia,
(We weep for departed ones,)
moe mai ra.
(rest in peace.)
Kei te hunga ora:
(To us of the living world:)
Tena tatou katoa.
(Greetings to us all.)

I have greeted you in the first language of my country. I come from Wellington, New Zealand. This is the place – the hills and harbour I love and call home. It’s on the other side of the world from here, nearly 2,000 kilometres from our nearest neighbour. As New Zealand’s first poet laureate Bill Manhire says to live in Wellington – and in New Zealand – is to “live at the edge of the universe, like everybody else.”

Patricia Grace, a local novelist, shares my devotion:

“I love this city,” she writes, “the hills, the harbour, the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity. There’s always an edge here that one must walk, that’s sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance.”
Wellington is a steep, compact and testing city. The houses and the people cling stubbornly to the hills and the hills collide with the sky. Most days I go running, up the pine-covered hills that surround the city where, when the big southerly gales blow, the wind roars like the ocean. It’s a place where I can think and explore and create and dream.

In the distance the blue ranges are hung with mist. Directly below lies a perfect keyhole of a harbour which threads its way out to Cook Strait, one of the wildest stretches of water on earth.

Our wild and passionate climate shapes the kind of people we are. One of my favourite poets, Lauris Edmond put it this way:

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.”

Some days on my run I drop down and run along the waterfront, where there’s a walk celebrating some of New Zealand’s greatest writers. Some like Katherine Mansfield you may have heard of, others you will enjoy discovering. As I jog past, reading their insights, I’m struck by just how much this city inspires people.

I run a little further and come to our new national museum, Te Papa – our place. Perhaps more than anywhere else in New Zealand, Te Papa celebrates the connections and collisions that define us as a people.

Bruce Mason, perhaps our greatest playright, spoke of the theatre as “a space where magic can be made and miracles occur.” I believe this to be true of my home city. And it’s true of the whole of my country. It’s a place where magic is regularly made and miracles of the imagination do occur.

One of the most popular films ever made, The Lord of the Rings, was made in Wellington. 30,000 Wellingtonians lined the streets for its premiere. It’s a city of exuberance and vitality. As the poet Louis Johnson once asked: “How many capitals are so human?” It’s a city that honours the creative spirit. And celebrates creative achievers.

Where does this creative energy come from? I like to think that my city is a microcosm of New Zealand. New Zealand arose from a series of dramatic geological events and eruptions that gave birth to unearthly summits, emerald green lakes and a volcanic plateau that still rumbles beneath your feet. The spine of the South Island is made up of a chain of 18 peaks higher than 3,000 metres. Snow from the alps is carried away by more than 360 glaciers which feed rivers on both sides of the island. You’ll recognise much of this awesome landscape as the back-drop to the Lord of the Rings.

But it wasn’t the glorious scenery alone that made the Lord of the Rings a New Zealand film. The Lord of the Rings could have been made in many countries but it would have been a different film. As Oscar-winning special effects director Richard Taylor has noted, what made that film uniquely different were attributes of the heart - devotion, passion, lack of cynicism, selfless teamwork, courage and bold thinking that overcame even the most daunting of problems. Wellington poet Jenny Bornholdt tells us about the heart – and New Zealanders, of all the people on this planet, have more heart than anyone – in her lovely poem, Weighing Up the Heart:

Always there are our hearts to consider
They are most precious to us.
The heart is a means of description.
It will locate the sentiment.
Speak up small red thing...
Always refer back to the heart.
It is where the world began.

So where did our story begin? It began with a series of unlikely connections and collisions. It began with a story of Pacific seafarers and colonial adventurers journeying here by canoe and sail “into the nameless waters of the world.” Here they were transformed by each other and a harshly beautiful environment. It was a time when, as the poet Allen Curnow said:

“Simply by sailing in a new direction
You could enlarge the world.”

Since then it has been an exhilarating story of great Western traditions colliding with vibrant Maori and Pacific cultures and producing an extraordinary mix of peoples, cultures and dreams. It’s been a story of unexpected triumphs, achieved on the edge of the world “with the bare harmonies of sand and wave” in our heads.

Those days of discovery have now given way to “new hazardous tomorrows.” In the words of Curnow again,

“Now there are no more islands to be found
And the eye scans risky horizons of its own
In unsettled weather . . .
Who navigates us towards what unknown
But not improbable provinces? Who reaches
A future down for us from the high shelf
Of spiritual daring?”

Now the journey is intensely inwards and there is no shortage of New Zealanders reaching up to the high shelf of spiritual daring, continuing the tradition of creativity that has always been a part of our nation’s story. Now, more than ever, creativity is the wind in our sails. Among New Zealanders, there is an eagerness to explore our solitude and the more introspective side of our nature that belies the cliché of a South Pacific paradise. There is also a casual, down-to-earth sense of humour and a determination to tell a fresh story of these islands which see the world differently, looking at it upside down on the globe.

As the Chair of the New Zealand Arts Council, I have been thrilled to witness a tremendous flowering of creative New Zealand talent across so many areas. There is a new appreciation for our creative people and what they can accomplish. The arts have never enjoyed a higher profile in New Zealand. As a country we are giving them more resources to pursue their vision.

We do this because our artists and creative thinkers and our other entrepreneurs of the imagination are changing the way we look at the world and the way the world looks at us. They tell us about our past, give meaning to our present and propel us into the future. They urge us to take risks, like our forbears. They enable us to surprise ourselves, to be exhilarated.

Today’s creative New Zealanders have inherited the flame of creativity from the country’s long and deep history of innovation. From its very beginning, New Zealand has been, arguably, the most creative country on the planet. New Zealanders, past and present, have been inspired by the words of one our greatest writers, Katherine Mansfield, who said:

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth...”

The man who split the atom was a New Zealander – Ernest Rutherford. A New Zealander, William Pickering, played a crucial part in putting a man on the moon. Nobel Prize winner Alan MacDiarmid discovered that plastics could conduct electricity, opening up a new future for information technology. Another Nobel Prize winner Maurice Wilkins was a pioneer of DNA research. And it’s a New Zealander, Mike Mizrai, who is the creative genius behind the sensational Louis Vuitton event at the recent New York Fashion Week.

New Zealand’s reputation as Islands of Innovation continues through the talents of people such as our film-makers – like Golden Globe and BAFTA winner, Peter Jackson, Christine Jeffs, director of Rain and Sylvia, and Nicky Caro, director of Whale Rider. And the young star of Whale Rider, Keisha Castle-Hughes who has been nominated for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards.

We have a new school of internationally acclaimed writers such as Elizabeth Knox, Catherine Chidgey, Emily Perkins and Kapka Kassabova. These people are successfully fusing many literary traditions, looking out at the world and unafraid to look within.

A distinctive New Zealand style of dance has also emerged. A powerful combination of Polynesian energy and a boisterous physicality. Our painters, sculptors, photographers – people such as Michael Tuffery, Shane Cotton, Bill Hammond, Michael Parekowhai, Lisa Reihana,– are addressing issues as diverse as migration and diaspora, indigenous land rights, cultural heritage and environmental degradation. They are presenting an alternative vision, a marked departure from the stereotype of New Zealand as a cosy South Pacific paradise. I applaud their courage.

Our performing artists and musicians are enjoying similar success. Audiences have been delighted by the dynamic blend of hip-hop, rap and polynesian rhythms, of bands like Nesian Mystik and artists such as Che Fu, Scribe and King Kapisi.

Kiwi fashion is conquering the cat-walks as well – with a distinctively New Zealand style of fashion. People are responding to work that is inspired by Pacific themes and reflects our casual, relaxed attitude to life. So often Maori and Pacific traditions are energising our artists. These artists are drawing on symbols that reflect the turbulent heart of this land.

This creative outpouring is not confined to the arts. As the head of Clemenger BBDO in Wellington, I witness in the business world how creativity and innovation are attributes which are prized above all else. I’ve seen the emergence of a genuine imagination economy in New Zealand where the currency is in ideas.

As a small country, we’ve learnt to compete with the best in the world by using our wits, imagination and a passionate intellect. From our stunning wine industry to fashion and industrial design, from maxi-yachts to the Hamilton Jet, the Britten Motor-Bike and Formway’s revolutionary Life Chair, New Zealand products and ideas are capturing the imagination of the world. Commercial success flows from the same spirit of inventiveness and enterprise that has defined us from the very beginning.

Let me share some other examples. Genesis Research, a Kiwi biotechnology company, is conducting leading edge research into plant and animal genes. Their work will help sustain our agriculture industry without the damage caused by pesticides and herbicides. This pioneering work is finding solutions to some of the toughest health and agricultural problems the world is facing.

In another realm, Weta Digital specialises in creating award-winning visual effects for movies and television. It is one of the top three digital effects studios in the world and is now building on the incredible success of the Lord of the Rings. I can’t wait to see what magic they can weave with King Kong.

Meanwhile HIT Lab New Zealand is leading the way in virtual reality technology that will revolutionise the way people interact with computers. One of the Lab’s most exciting projects is a Magic Book, which enables readers to see virtual content as well real pages. This amazing technology is being applied to very practical areas such as road-building and house construction.

I believe these examples demonstrate how New Zealand is coming of age. In the arts, in industry, in sports, in science, in politics - in all these fields we are plugging into the rest of the world as never before. And we’re doing it our way. It’s not that we think we are better than anyone else, but we are different. We see the world differently. And we’re prepared to see ourselves differently. As Allen Curnow observed half a century ago:

“Whatever islands may be
Under or over the sea,
It is something different, something
Nobody counted on.”

I’m sure what helps to make us distinctive is our sense of place and our sense of humour. In my industry – advertising – our laconic humour is a rich vein of inspiration. Let me show you some examples of award-winning Kiwi creativity.

(Television commercials)

From the beginning then, our landscape, our history and our people have been shaped by extraordinary connections and collisions that have given birth to a resilient and imaginative spirit. When I look back at what our pioneers, our scientists, our suffragettes, our adventurers, our soldiers, our filmmakers, our farmers, our artists, our writers and our entrepreneurs have achieved, it is no hollow claim to call these islands of imagination.

The Paradise Now? Exhibition, which features the work of 11 of our finest contemporary artists, explores the power and range of the Kiwi imagination. The work of these artists is evidence that life on the edge of the universe is still creating something nobody counted on.

Thank you for listening so attentively. I’ve loved my time in America but I must admit I’m keen to get home to the big weather. I’m going back to the place which anchors me, to islands and the deep blue sea. But before I go, I’d like to play you a piece from one of my favourite songs – Anchor Me, by New Zealand band, the Muttonbirds.

( Song montage - Anchor Me)
No reira ka nui nga korero i konei
(So I have said enough)
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa
(Greetings, thrice greetings)
Ka huri
(I now turn)

ENDS

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