Te-Ika-Akoranga - A Story about the Southern Cross Cable and a Mural 1962 - 2014

This is a story about the Southern Cross Cable and a public mural.

1962 Artist E. Mervyn Taylor completes a mural for the New Zealand Post Office. It is installed in the foyer of the COMPAC (Commonwealth Pacific) Cable Station in Northcote to mark the opening of the Tasman section of the undersea cable, which enters the country at Takapuna Beach.

The building is open to the public with a simple visitor book on hand for those entering the building.

Date Unknown  The Hauraki Gulf Cable Protection Zone is established in northeastern New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, protecting a large area of seabed from fishing and anchoring.

1982 The ANZCAN cable is laid as a replacement for the COMPAC cable.

1987 The New Zealand Post Office becomes a State Owned Enterprise, split into three units. Telecom New Zealand takes ownership of Cables.

1990 Telecom New Zealand is privatised: sold to Bell Atlantic and Ameritech. Entries trail off in the COMPAC landing station visitors book.

Date Unknown The cable station complex is secured.

1993 The PACRIM East cable is laid - linking Auckland and Hawaii.

1996 The Submarine Pipelines and Cables Protection Act comes into law.

1999 The Southern Cross Cable lands on Takapuna Beach. It runs to a Cable Station constructed next to the COMPAC Cable Station.

2002 The ANZCAN cable ceases operation.

2010 Wikileaks releases documents showing over 300 foreign sites that are critical to US national interests. The only two New Zealand sites on the list are the two landing sites of the Southern Cross Cable.

March 2013  JWT Advertising approaches Letting Space to make a series of work for private offices. Letting Space respond with a plan for commissioning three public artworks that traverse both public space and the private zone of JWT offices.

June 2013 Bronwyn Holloway-Smith proposes idea to examine the landing sites of the Southern Cross Cable through her Letting Space Commission, as well as to complete a PhD on the same topic.

Google Maps satellite view of COMPAC cable station (highlighted) located in the same high-security complex as the Southern Cross Cable station (next door).

August 2013 The artist and Letting Space visit North Shore, Auckland.

Including the now security-fenced perimeter of the cable station in Northcote.

January-March 2014 The artist hears that there is a ceramic mural on the inside of the cable station and requests permission to photograph. She is informed that it was removed due to damage and deterioration.

The artist locates a small colour photograph in NZ Archives.

April 2014 The artist enquires as to remnants of the mural and the Southern Cross Cable Station Manager locates a set of three cardboard boxes containing the tiles.

The shape of the work for the commission for Letting Space and JWT is confirmed and discussed with the E. Mervyn Taylor Estate and current assumed owners Telecom. An initial set of tiles travel to Massey University, Wellington.

Conservators at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa view a sample of tiles and advise on the best restoration approach. Restoration and digitisation commences.

May 2014. A fishing dragnet is purchased by the artist. The dragnet is a a nod to the Hauraki Gulf Cable Protection Area (the net is the kind used to catch snapper, the most popular of the fish species caught in the gulf) and, puns aside, makes reference to discussions of catch-all internet surveillance - a tactic that has been referred to as “dragnet surveillance”.

The first set of tiles are individually photographed, edited, printed in duplicate, and laminated. Negotiation is made to allow the artist to have the remaining tiles relocated to Wellington for restoration work.


The net is sent to Auckland to be hung tautly by Letting Space project coordinator Harry Silver in a large glass cabinet at JWT Auckland’s Imperial Lane Queen Street Offices.

June 2014 The mural unveiling process begins whereby the artist mails a parcel each week to Kirsten Brown at JWT Auckland.

It contains a group of reproductions of the tiles to be hung on the fishing net as per coordinates given. The second set are hung on a net in the artist’s temporary studio in Wellington.

Additional restoration assistance comes in the form of a team of volunteers who attend a working bee organised by the artist.

July 2014  The artist releases a first batch of tiles online, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License allowing the public to share and adapt the tiles for any purpose, even commercially. Restoration work, photographing and posting of tiles to JWT continues.

August 2014 The artist gives a presentation and chairs a discussion panel at Massey University College of Creative Arts looking at copyright issues connected with the project. A second batch of tiles are released online, and the artist visits Te Papa with curator Megan Tamati-Quenell to view the painting by Taylor that the mural was based on. Restoration work, photographing and posting of tiles to JWT continues.

August 2014 Telecom NZ becomes SPARK, thereby removing any nominal ties to the original New Zealand Post Office.

September 2014 The artist continues to release batches. The picture is now almost complete.

15 September 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and whistle-blowing anti-surveillance advocate Edward Snowden take part via the internet in an event at the Auckland Town Hall titled the 'Moment of Truth'. Greenwald and Snowden present information about "Project Speargun", suggesting that New Zealanders are subject to mass internet surveillance under the GCSB with the full knowledge of Prime Minister John Key (leader of the National Party). The surveillance is said to take place via a tap on the Southern Cross Cable.
October 2014 The JWT commissioned component of the work is due to close with a presentation and  the reproduction of the complete mural online and in the JWT cabinet.   


For more information on this project including an interview with the artist go here.

To view the mural online go here.

To receive updates as this project continues join our mailing list here.




Storming the museum - onside and outside

Artists can be powerful commentators and re-framers of public and political territory.   And as active citizens, deciding to work within or without an institution often raises questions for artists about the best or even possible ways to challenge, question, activate and inspire action.

Our current Letting Space project, Siv Fjaerstaad’s Projected Fields - is very much outside the gallery - and yet relies very heavily on the institution of the Wellington City Council.  It is a extended field painting on a sports field, highlighting one of Wellington’s largest inner city ‘commons,’ in Berhampore.  It uses grass as its medium and gently reminds us of the choices that are made about the activities we conduct in our parks. 

There won’t be much to see of the art work until November this year even as we beaver behind the scenes - gumbooting around in the rain testing paint samples mostly.    We're currently working to engage residents and users of McAlister Park, Berhampore and you're welcome to take part in our survey here


Siv and David Jackson (WCC) test paint samples. PHOTO: SOPHIE JERRAM

During July, I’ve instead enjoyed the indoor protection of the gallery space in contemplating and discussing two exhibitions in Wellington at the Adam Art Gallery and Enjoy Public Art Gallery.    Both exhibitions highlight the role of the artist in heightened political environments: at the Adam, Hito Steyerl’s compelling video lecture Is the Museum a Battlefield?  is showing in the Kirk gallery.  Emil McAvoy's Prismism is at Enjoy until Saturday this week.

Set during the Istanbul Biennial in 2013, Hito Steyerl's  Is the Museum a Battlefield? reveals the artist as a character caught in a time loop, implicated through indirect association with the armament industry, yet aware of her protected status at the time of the anti-government protests occurring at the time of the Biennial.  Implicating ‘star’ architects as co-conspirators with multinational clients and munitions manufacturers, and implying a gradual softening in our attitude toward weaponry through an extended socialisation within museums of armaments and guns, she asks for our assistance as viewers in reversing the ‘bullet’, citing the history of the storming of the Hermitage in 1815 and the Louvre in 1789.   As Steyerl chooses to remain and act within the institutional boundaries of the Biennial she keeps a finger pointed at the galleries that choose to receive sponsorship from armament and related companies.   For those of us in New Zealand this has been echoed by the withdrawal of several artists from the Sydney Biennale who protested the sponsorship of Transfield Holdings and the Chairing role of Luca Belgiorno-Netti - Transfield had taken over the management of detention centres in Australia. (He eventually went on to resign).  Whether Biennales can ever escape the close association with multinational companies involved in a range of activities,  - some more ethically dubious than others - is debateable while art practice continues to rely on the market and playing the role of status symbol for the wealthy.  It is not just star architects who are close to the wealthy but many individual artists as well. 

At the launch of Is a Museum a Battlefield, Adam Art Gallery Director Christina Barton asked Massey Professor Martin Patrick and me to begin a public discussion, armed with Bruno Groys’ (highly recommended)  essay on Art Activism to discuss the relevance of art as a force for action.  Sitting in the very beautifully designed Gallery space (Architecture: Ian Athfield) with around 30 others, the discussion managed to touch on some initial ideas about the role of the museum as a safe place for debate - at least when the streets are lined with tanks.    A collaborative online discussion has since been started as a publication and I look forward to seeing how the conversation will extend the ideas of Steyerl's work.  

The next day I was party to Emil McAvoy's artist talk for his show Prismism at Enjoy Public Art Gallery. The show is an examination of the design of power spaces, and links Edward Snowden’s revelations of global surveillance with police culture and abstract art.   The show comprises a set of portable-adjustable (free to arrange to your taste) abstract paintings appropriated from police car designs. Invoking an imagined boardroom of the CIA or SIS or GCSB and insinuating greater relationships with the designed casual ‘break out spaces’ of corporate architecture, Emil encouraged a healthy discussion of ones’s ability or inability to be removed from surveillance culture. The apparent indifference of abstract art and its willing co-option into the marketplace was also up for discussion even as Emil spoke of his own need for a collector to purchase his works.  We sat around on bean bags covered with police uniform fabric, in our own Saturday morning ’think tank.’ This was a cloistered space -protected physically, culturally and financially and there was not so much storming going on as 'norming' and 'forming' within our think-thank.  (See here for an explanation of the Tucker's theory of the stages of group development widely used in management).  We can’t call Emil’s work an incitement to activism per se, and yet his works have the last laugh - go and see the show and watch for your reaction next time you see a Police car.  


Sophie Jerram

Emil McAvoy's show, Prismism is on til Saturday August 2nd at Enjoy.

Hito Steyerl, Is a Museum a Battlefield? until 10 August at the Adam Art Gallery


Berhampore residents shape a giant field painting




MacAlister and Liardet Parks residents in Berhamphore have been asking if they’ve been recently visited by vandals or crop circle creators.   Artist Siv Fjaerestad’s has been testing grass paint on the fields.  She is asking Wellingtonians for stories about both parks to help them create this temporary public artwork and is looking for information from anyone who has used or does use the park.  This can be provided via an online survey  at

Siv B. Fjaerestad's Projected Fields, produced by public art programme Letting Space, is a unique, contemporary art project extending what we consider both painting and public art.  It will ask questions about how we use our city grounds and raise the parks profile.

 This major public art project is being supported by Wellington City Council's public art fund and the final display is planned for November 2014.

Council Arts Advisor, Jodie Dalgleish says, “Projected Field was selected for its ability to enliven and enrich our city, particularly its green spaces, not often thought of in relation to art, but importantly related to shared experiences. We are keen to see the way artists, curators and communities can be involved in a whole new field of art-making.”

The field painting will explore the visual language of field markings and signage seen on sports and recreational grounds, overlaying textures, changing perspectives and representations of natural, man-made and digitally rendered scenery. It will also provide a backdrop for performances and actions inspired by current and new activities in the park. Playing fields and parks are the common ground for some of the public's most diverse activities, organised and unorganised.  

Projected Fields explores how man-made systems such as sports field markings, paths and signage enable, limit and otherwise choreograph our movements and actions in parks and commons areas.

"Grass is a social material,” says artist Siv B Fjaerestad. “It is probably the most common natural material and source of experience in every community throughout New Zealand. The sports ground and commons present a different and interesting playing field for making art because it is governed by how various communities, clubs and individuals use it. The park is perceived, used and interpreted differently at different times of the day and week.”


You can join the Facebook group at

Siv’s thinking on the project is recommended:


Siv B. Fjærestad is a Norwegian-born artist and curator, living in New Zealand. She holds an MA in Visual Arts from Goldsmiths College in London, and has exhibited in the UK and New Zealand. She has previously worked as Manager and Curator at Enjoy where she curated One Day Sculpture with Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams, and co-commissioned and curated An Imaginary Archive with New York based collaborative artist and academic, Gregory Sholette.

In 2011 Fjærestad chaired a Wairarapa based arts and culture community initiative called Featherston Seen, for which she created and exhibited works based on local recreational grounds. A former resident of Berhamphore, she is currently working part-time managing Featherston Community Centre, which hosts many South Wairarapa organisations and community groups.

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Artist Siv Fjaerstad and David Jackson from Wellington City Council work to place test circles on the park. PHOTO: LETTING SPACE



Artist bringing mural back into the public commons


The COMPAC landing station wall where Taylor’s mural Te Ika-a-Māui was originally located. Photo: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, 2014

A significant national mural has been rediscovered as part of an art project by 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.





Urban Dream Brokerage Grows 

Our service Urban Dream Brokerage is calling for dynamic proposals for the use of vacant retail space in Wellington from artists, designers, businesses, community groups and social entrepreneurs. Anyone with an innovative idea that needs a space within which to interact with the public in new ways can apply. Applications can be made at any time through

New funding has been confirmed this month from Wellington City Council and Wellington Community Trust, to allow the Urban Dream Brokerage to broaden its work with property owners, individuals and community groups to broker the temporary use of vacant space for innovative projects, assisting in urban revitalisation. 

Urban Dream Brokerage's work in Wellington aims to increase diversity and community, reduce vacant space, increase professionalism and help innovate business development, increase mixed use of the city's building stock, see stronger representation of mana whenua and increase public engagement in the city

“We want to see Wellington known as a city for its innovative use of space and public interaction,” says Urban Dream Broker Helen Kirlew Smith. “Help create a place where everyone feels represented. Where, like the traditional high street, community and businesses exist side by side. This is an opportunity for locally-grown businesses and groups with original ideas to involve the public in their thinking and work.For the city’s future health, our streets need to reflect our diversity. A city’s resilience is determined by how it responds to its changing circumstances.”

Urban Dream Brokerage has run as a pilot over the last 15 months. The Brokerage placed 15 creative projects into vacant retail spaces around the city. These included a community cinema (People’s Cinema, still going), a former ASB Bank site where the public could deposit their mood and consider the collective mood of the city (Moodbank), a waiting room in Cuba Mall (The Waiting Room), innovative theatre productions, a jewellery workshop and exhibition space in Willis Street (Occupation Artists), and a space displaying hundreds of wedding dresses where the public were asked their views on marriage on the eve of the passing of the Marriage Amendment Act (Brides).

Mark Farrar, from Council’s funding team says, “the Urban Dream Brokerage gives Wellington innovative and exciting public art, helps our creative industries and asks provocative questions about social and cultural issues.”

Over the last four years statistics from Colliers International show that, while there has been recent growth in retail spending, there has also been a steady increase in retail and other commercial vacancies, with most of that increase in the heart of the CBD. The most recently published figures show vacancies at 13.7%.

Proposed projects for the Urban Dream Brokerage need to be unique, innovative, bring life to the city and be open to the public. Projects may be temporary one-off trials or designed to be ongoing. “Our job,” says Kirlew, “is not to replicate what already exists. This is an opportunity to develop new ideas with the public”.   

Project proposals can be submitted on the Urban Dream Brokerage website: or by emailing Helen Kirlew Smith at for more information.   


Men in Hi-Vis Jackets 

Men in hi-vis jackets are plentiful around Christchurch at the moment, but we have a special tribe of them helping Tim Barlow create the site for TEZA (pictured above).   

TEZA couldn’t be built without these guys from Postive Directions Trust, or PDT for short. They include men who have had a bit of a rough start, and may be heading toward a life crime or gangs.  “When these guys are given responsibility they turn away from crime,”  Positive Directions Trust CEO Phil Tikao says.

“PDT works with men who have significant barriers’ to employment, like criminal records or not having much education, but most of them do really well in social settings.”

After a period of training and induction, they get a uniform and are placed in a project.

“It’s not rocket science really. You give them a hi-vis jacket and a walkie talkie and they’re feeling some responsibility and genuine care.”

PDT is assisting Letting Space with building the TEZA site and with security overnight.

PDT has been around for 18 years and has always tried to work on innovative approaches to social issues. 

Phil says there are many perceived risks in his work but he knows they can do even more. He says they are “tucked at the side,” working with ACC, the Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health as well as iwi-affiliated Te Rununga o Ngai Tahu and He Oranga Pounamu.


Its a privilege to able to be part of adding a public art organisation to that lineup.



Join Phil Dadson's Bicycle Choir



Anyone interested in the formation of a Bicycle Choir for TEZA in New Brighton during the last week in November 2013, is welcome to meet, greet, hear and discuss a plan in progress, this Saturday, 5.30 for 6pm at Seaview Reslience Centre, 165 Seaview Rd in New Brighton. 
Briefly, the bicycle-choir is a sonic-cum-choreographic plot to mobilize cycling / singing enthusiasts, in New Brighton, with the aim of creating an experience to imprint the collective memory and locality with a sense of solidarity and the sheer pleasure of being one instrument (sound-in-motion) in concert with community. It aims to contribute, in its way, to fostering the creative spirit of New Brighton and to support and encourage an already burgeoning cycling movement within the wider Christchurch region.  
More info about the event, this Saturday 19th, 5.30 for 6pm 165 Seaview Rd.
Anyone enthusiastic for the idea of cycling and singing (no professional skills required) is welcome.
Phil Dadson 
Artist in the TEZA / New Brighton initiative (November 24 - Dec 1, 2013)
Artist in Scape 7. (Bodytok Quintet, The Artbox venue. Chch central)