Artist rediscovers long-lost national treasure
27 May 2014
Artist rediscovers long-lost national treasure
A significant national mural has been rediscovered as part of an art project by Wellington artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith. For the first time in decades, members of the public will once again be able to view the mural in conjunction with Holloway-Smith’s new work “Te Ika-a-Akoranga” (The Fish of Akoranga).
The ceramic mural is a large-scale illustration of the mythical Māori tale of Māui fishing up the North Island of New Zealand (Te Ika-a-Māui). It was originally created in 1961 by leading New Zealand artist E. Mervyn Taylor for the opening of the Commonwealth Pacific Cable (COMPAC), just three years before he died in 1964. Te Ika-a-Māui is one of only 15 large-scale public works that he completed - some of which have since been covered over or destroyed.
A precursor of today’s Southern Cross Cable, which carries 98% of New Zealand’s international internet traffic, the COMPAC cable was a major post-World War Two submarine telecommunications system built between 1961-63 to connect a network of Commonwealth countries. The more recent Southern Cross Cable’s landing station is located in the same high-security complex as the now disused COMPAC landing station.
The work is part of a commissioned series of projects by independent public art curators Letting Space for JWT New Zealand, which explores the relationship between private and public space. For this commissioned project Holloway-Smith has begun painstakingly restoring and photographing all 414 tiles in the Taylor mural. A first version of the work will be displayed as photographic”‘tiles” in a large publicly-viewable glass cabinet in the JWT offices in the Imperial Building, Lower Queen Street, the reproduction of the mural put together gradually over time like a jigsaw as new tiles are restored.
Alongside a physical replica of the mural, images of each tile will also be released online under a Creative Commons copyright license that will allow members of the public, anywhere in the internet-connected world, to reconstruct their own version of the mural.
“The COMPAC station was publicly accessible for many years until approximately 1990, when a high-security perimeter fence was built around the complex.” Holloway-Smith explains.“It seems appropriate to give part of the work back to the public considering the mural’s history as a public artwork, the shifts that have happened in terms of its accessibility, and its proximity to one of the most important sites in New Zealand’s communications history”.
The COMPAC cable reinforced the commonwealth geo-political ties that were strengthened during World War Two. At the time of building, the cable cost $100 million, spanning 14,000 miles, and containing 11,000 miles of telephone cable that linked Scotland, Canada, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. The tale of The Fish of Maui bears a metaphorical connection with the physical nature of the COMPAC cable.
Taylor’s mural was installed in the foyer of the COMPAC landing station in Northcote, Auckland, but was later removed due to deterioration and thought to be lost. The mural has recently been rediscovered stacked away in a disused area of the now defunct COMPAC landing station.
Telecom Head of Public Affairs Conor Roberts is supportive of the project, “It was surprising to learn about the significance of the piece after Bronwyn approached us about her research and we’re very happy a significant artwork has been rediscovered after being stored for so long at the Southern Cross Cable landing site,” Roberts says. “It’s been great to help bring this artwork back to life as it is a beautiful representation of Māui fishing up the North Island.”
‘Te Ika-a-Akoranga’ is the first work in a series Holloway-Smith is creating in connection with her PhD through Massey University College of Creative Arts, where she is investigating the cultural significance of the landing sites of NZ’s Southern Cross Cable. It is the second project in a series commissioned by curators Letting Space for JWT New Zealand. The first Please Give Generously by Judy Darragh ran from December 2013 to May 2014.
Work title: Te Ika-a-Akoranga (The Fish of Akoranga)
Artist name: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith
Project begins: May 2014
Full unveiling date: 10 October 2014
Original work: Te Ika-a-Māui, by E. Mervyn Taylor, 1961
Total number of tiles in the mural: 414
Letting Space project page: http://www.lettingspace.org.nz/te-ika-a-akoranga/
Bronwyn Holloway-Smith is a Wellington-based artist who works in a wide-range of media, specialising in cross-platform, trans-disciplinary installation practice. Her work often examines and engages with new technologies and the futuristic ideals and challenges these inventions present, with a recent focus on internet culture, three-dimensional printing, open source art, and space colonisation. Her work has been shown internationally and throughout New Zealand, and is represented in both private and public collections. She is a prospective PhD candidate at Massey University, where she also gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours). She has completed additional studies through Harvard University. Her first project with Letting Space was Pioneer City in 2012.
E. Mervyn Taylor (1906-1964) was a well-known and respected New Zealand artist. He contributed numerous illustrations, woodcuts and engravings to the School Journal, and spent some years serving as Art Editor and Illustrator for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education. He was passionate about indigenous subjects, particularly the New Zealand landscape, flora, fauna, and Māori life and legend. Taylor’s work was exhibited widely throughout New Zealand and he was known and respected internationally. In the 1950s he was made a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York and a fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters in East Germany. He was the first New Zealand artist to be exhibited in New York and Moscow. Te Ika-a-Māui is one of only 15 large-scale public works that Taylor completed - many of which have since been covered over or destroyed.
Letting Space: www.lettingspace.org.nz
JWT New Zealand: www.jwt.co.nz