This is Bronwyn Holloway Smith, nicely posed by photographer Clive Pigott for an article by Max Rashbrooke in the November edition of Fishhead Magazine. Great colour combos. As you can see staged, Bronwyn is putting in place at Massey the final tiles of one of the two reproductions of an E Mervyn Taylor mural bringing us close to the end of the Letting Space and JWT commissioned project Te Ika-a-Akoranga - part of Bronwyn's bigger journey with her PhD through Massey University College of Creative Arts, for which she is investigating the cultural significance of the landing sites of NZ’s Southern Cross Cable.
Restoration has been completed on this rediscovered significant mural, and it is now available to view online and as a reproduction in Auckland’s Queen Street in a large publicly-viewable glass cabinet in the JWT offices in the Imperial Building, Lower Queen Street. As the online reproduction shows, 16 of 414 ceramic tiles that comprise the mural remain missing.
For those catching up with the story the 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 to mark the opening of the Tasman section of the Commonwealth Pacific Cable (COMPAC), a precursor of today’s Southern Cross Cable. The present-day fibre-optic cable carries 98% of New Zealand’s international internet traffic and is allegedly subject to wholesale mass surveillance, as revealed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald at the Moment of Truth event at Auckland Town Hall in September 2014.
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 painstakingly restored and photographed all the tiles in the Taylor mural. The reproduction of the mural has been put together gradually over 2014, like a jigsaw, as the restoration and digitisation of tiles occurred.
The tiles have been released online under a Creative Commons copyright license allowing 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 has explained. “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. The history of the mural and the Southern Ocean cables is outlined as part of the art project in a blog here.
This 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.