In May 2011 nine artists were invited to voyage upon the HMNZS Otago from Devonport Naval Base in Auckland, northward through the Kermadec region, toward the Kingdom of Tonga. The ‘seariders’, Phil Dadson, Bruce Foster, Fiona Hall, Gregory O’Brien, Jason O’Hara, John Pule, John Reynolds, Elizabeth Thomson and Robin White, were selected because of their connection to the Pacific, through art, ancestry, upbringing and everyday life.
This invitation was extended by the Kermadec Initiative of the Pew Environment Group which is encouraging protection of this heritage-rich and biologically diverse ocean environment through designation of an ocean sanctuary. Contained within New Zealand territorial waters, the Kermadec region is one of the few remaining near-pristine ocean sites on the planet. Its sub-tropical islands sit at the northernmost point of our nation’s territory and have a history of Polynesian and European contact that has, until now, rarely featured in our art history or registered in our national psyche.
The voyage provided an opportunity for the artists to experience the rolling seas, weather, wildlife and islands of the Kermadec region, and to contemplate the way they affect the mind, body and spirit. Among the many new dimensions of awareness that this week-long voyage provided, was a palpable sense of urgency, given the environmental issues which lay at the heart of their shared experience.
For each of the nine artists, this remarkable adventure has become an ongoing journey of exploration and creativity. While most of the works were produced in the six months immediately following the voyage, all the participants are still making art relating to the Kermadecs. The artworks are a varied response to this experience utilising an abundance of materials, methods and ideas sourced from Pacific handcrafts, poetry and waiata, jewellery, maritime painting traditions and scientific photography.