18 May 2011

When art meets nature

The Kermadec Project
Last night, we got to share in a tiny part of an environmental project that's using art to spread it's message. As we arrived, the dusky night was spreading along the Nuku'alofa harbour, and we stepped into a white balconied wood floored italian restaurant, packed with art, people, and sauna-like air. The event, put on by the PEW Environment Group and the New Zealand High Commission with performing group On The Spot Arts Initiative, was like an overseas gallery opening: beautifully displayed pieces, nice lighting, and a steady stream of appetizers.


We were all there to welcome nine famous New Zealand based artists stopping in Tonga as part of the Kermadec Project, named after an undersea trench that stretches from New Zealand to Tonga. In order to raise awareness about this beautiful and fragile part of the Pacific, the group of artists are taking this voyage, to be followed by a gallery show in November displaying their pieces based on the experience.

Elizabeth Thomson 
Conversation ebbed and flowed. Phil Dadson showed me the surprisingly instrument-like sounds he'd been experimenting with, created by a pair of smooth "singing stones," opening and closing his hand as he struck the stones together to produce a hollow, slightly eerie "woao woao" sound. Robin White explained her previous work in Fiji with two Fijian artisans, in which they jointly designed a fusion of Fijian bark cloth designs combined with Indian moteifs on marriage bark cloth, to symbolize the (somewhat tumultuous) "marriage" of cultures in Fiji. I was struck by the simple beauty of Elizabeth Thomson's work in wood and leaf-cast bronze, and wished there was enough time to learn from every artist there. 

After an hour of schmoozing, it came time for the programme to start. Each artist gave a brief talk about their work, the audience enraptured with bright eyes and foreheads shining with sweat in the close air. I went outside with the rest of the On The Spot dancers, and started stretching in the cool night breezes, preparing for our number. For the last few months I've been part of the dance squad, and our performance that night was a jointly choreographed a short number to an industrial-sounding song by Basement Jaxx. At the end of the piece, we were sweaty, filled with adrenaline, and the crowd was clapping. 
Fascinated onlookers

Most of the artists are returning home in the next day or two, starting to work on their exhibition pieces for a show about the whole experience at the Tauranga Gallery in New Zealand. This will hopefully be one piece in gaining support for the marine reserve that encloses the Kermadec ridge, and a step in gathering public and political support for it to stay that way -- a reserve, rather than a recently-proposed oil drilling site. 

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