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Meet Whakatāne Museum's Inaugural Volcanic Artists in Residence

08 Aug 2018
From August 2018 to June 2019 over 20 Creative People will be Given Time, Space, and Geothermal Wonders

What do actress and film director Jackie van Beek, multi-disciplinary artist Jordana Bragg, Hawkes Bay painter Freeman White, and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery senior curator Paul Brobbel all have in common? What connects Native American artist Melanie Yazzie, environmentalist and former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, New Zealand contemporary art collective Mata Aho, and New Mexico-based land use art curator Erin Elder?

The answer is Whakatāne Museum's new Volcanic Artist Residency. These creative people, and a dozen more, are scheduled to become the first participants in the new programme to immerse artists and cultural managers with New Zealand's only active offshore volcano.

While here, the visiting artists will become temporary members of the Eastern Bay of Plenty community—spending between 2 and 6 weeks in residence and exploring the local heritage, culture, and environment. Each will spend a day making the journey to Whakaari/White Island, guided by a geologist from programme partner White Island Tours. And then they will take their experiences and new inspiration and do whatever comes naturally—adding a layer of geothermal potential to the creative process. 

The idea was initiated by Whakatāne Museum Director Eric Holowacz, who arrived in November 2017 with a mission to diversify museum programming, better connect Whakatāne with the world, complete a major new construction project, and expand local community engagement.

After founding artist residency programmes in Wellington, Key West (Florida), and Sedona (Arizona), Holowacz began working with his staff, Council officers, arts patrons, and creative partners to lay the groundwork. Victoria Sinclair, the Museum's Exhibitions Coordinator picked up the idea and ran with it.

"Victoria's stewardship of the pilot programme has been inspiring to watch, and her creative energy and dedication are the backbone of the initiative," says Holowacz.  

As Project Manager, Sinclair has been working with artists and cultural managers from all over the world, planning their residencies, liaising with White Island Tours, organising public programming, and shaping the pilot programme into a major new creative development platform.

"We've transformed the Council's historic Harbour Master House into a temporary home for poets, choreographers, sculptors, film-makers, writers, and people working in a creative field," says Sinclair. "And the programme will also invite and host a diverse range of arts administrators, curators, comedians, educators, television producers, and those who contribute to cultural identity and understanding. We can't wait to see what happens!"

To test the idea, Whakatāne Museum invited fearless Christchurch-based artists Edwards + Johann to conduct research for the Volcanic Residency in April 2018. Before opening new exhibitions at the museum galleries, the duo embarked on an odyssey to Whakaari / White Island — guided by geologist Sarah Bluett of White Island Tours. Offshore they gathered new images, ideas, and inspiration, and generated material for a new Whakatāne installation based on the geothermal investigations. 

“Whakaari left a huge impression on us — quite overwhelming at the time, but truly magical. It’s a place you have to feel with all your senses; a place you have to go to in order to experience its majestic, ever-changing and evolving landscape. There is so much grandeur — like a theatre stage you find yourself in the middle of the action all the time — yet with so much intimate detail and finesse. he residency left us with a total sense of wonder and awe. This was the perfect input and start of a totally new body of work for us.”

In July, film producer Ainsley Gardiner and writer/director Briar Grace-Smith became the first artists in residence to stay at the Harbour Master House. The duo made their first visit to White Island, and used their time to collaborate on a screenplay based on the Patricia Grace novel, Cousins. Before leaving, they also planted the seeds for a new film, The Song Jar, inspired by the residency's views of Wairaka, Moutohora, and Whakaari. 

"We know that mysterious, wonderful, unexpected things can come of a good guest-host relationship," says Holowacz. "And when you add experiences like an active marine volcano, kiwi night walks, hikes to secret beaches, and creative connections with local iwi, there is an increasing likelihood of magic and enchantment that can be fuel for new artistic fire."

In August, the Harbour Master House welcomes Wellington-based multi-disciplinary artist Jordana Bragg, whose work includes writing, live performance, still and moving image, and visual communication. Bragg's art-making is informed by wider research around issues of identity and gender fluidity, and is co-founder of the artist run initiatives Meanwhile in New Zealand and Friends are Artists/Freunde sind Künstler in Germany.

August also brings Paul Brobbel, senior curator and collections leader at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth. Brobbel has been the Gallery's Len Lye curator since 2013, and is responsible for exhibitions, collection development, and scholarship around New Zealand's most internationally acclaimed artist. He was previously Assistant Collection Manager for Photography at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. While in Whakatāne, Brobbel will present a 16 August film screening from his Projection Series #11: An Oceanic Feeling curated by London-based Erika Balsom. 

The Volcanic Artist Residency pilot programme continues through mid-2019 with documentarian, theatre-maker, and television producer Julie Hill and environmentalist and former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown. Other upcoming participants include African-American conceptual artist Michaela Pilar Brown, a return residency with Christchurch artists Edwards + Johann, and a writing retreat for Auckland-based actor and film-maker Jackie van Beek. 

Mata Aho Collective will be in residence later in 2018, as will Native American sculptor and print-maker Melannie Yazzie, visual artist Hannah Bremner, and Hawkes Bay painter Freeman White. The 2019 year will introduce Whakaari/White Island with museum professional Alexandra Grace, New Mexico curator and land use activist Erin Elder, and street artists and mural-makers Helena Martin and Brian Gonella.   

"All of our guests will leave with a newfound understanding of volcanic science and phenomenon, stronger connections to the Eastern Bay of Plenty, a relationship with our museum and collections, and creative inspiration only available in our corner of the world," says Holowacz. "We can only imagine what music, poetry, painting, ideas, and creative response will follow." 

For additional information and details about the Volcanic Artist Residency, contact Victoria Sinclair at Whakatāne Museum: [email protected] or 07 306 0505. 

Groundwork Laid for Volcanic Artist Residency, Photographic Look at Edwards + Johann Volcanic Residency, Volcanic Artist News Article in Whakatane Beacon, Announcement of the Dawn of the Volcanic Artist Residency