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Infinite Horizons: Gender Equality Through 1001 Spheres

09 May 2024

Dina Jezdic speaks to the creator of a public artwork that honours a huge milestone in Aotearoa's history - and challenges the next ones to come.

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Dina Jezdic

For over a century, New Zealand has been a trailblazer in pioneering efforts for women's rights. 

In 1893, it proudly became the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, a monumental milestone in the global suffrage movement. This watershed moment not only ushered in a new era of political enfranchisement but also served as a beacon of hope for the gender equality movement worldwide. 

Commemorating 125 Suffrage Whakatū Wāhine - the 125-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa, a remarkable public sculpture stands in the heart of Auckland's Monte Cecilia Park: 1001 Spheres.  

Commissioned by the Auckland Council Public Art Team and conceptualised by artist Chiara Corbelletto, this installation goes beyond mere commemoration. It serves as a symbol of the broader community's ongoing pursuit of gender parity, acknowledging past achievements while inspiring continued progress.  

Creative + maths = art

4. 1001 Spheres in relation to the Monte Cecilia Park mature trees.jpg
1001 Spheres. Photo: Chiara Corbelletto.

What distinguishes 1001 Spheres is its remarkable participatory nature. 

This installation - characterised by its mesmerising arrangement of reflective spheres cradled within a double hemisphere - beckons viewers into a realm of boundless potential. 

Corbelletto sheds light on the design, explaining, "It's informed by mathematical precision to deliver a structural form that is also partly optical, partly ethereal. The embracing form of this double hemisphere amplifies the psychical space of the sculpture forward. 

"1001 Spheres is also defined by an enclosed space filled with a multitude of spheres reflecting in each other the metaphor of infinite possibilities."

However, it's the integration of 23 distinct voices from individuals and organisations deeply dedicated to gender equality that truly enriches this work. 

Their words, spanning from profound reflections to impassioned declarations, form the cornerstone of a long-term project that delves into the intricacies of gender identity and diversity. 

As Corbelletto elaborates, "These written-word contributions are concealed invisibly within the sculpture and will be the foundation component of the durational project, investigating the themes of the sculpture - gender equality, gender identity and gender diversity."

1001 Spheres is a durational project with a focus on gender equality, gender identity and gender diversity. Their newly-launched website allows you to explore the collaborations and how different contributors have lent their voices to shape this important conversation.

A taste of Italy

7. Chiara Corbelletto.jpg
Chiara Corbelletto. Photo: Jinki Cambronero.

At the heart of Corbelletto's artistic vision lies a profound exploration of cultural identity and creative expression. Reflecting on her background, she shares, "I am Italian as my primary cultural identity, having grown up in Italy, educated and graduated there from art school and from architecture school. 

"I have been living in Aotearoa, NZ, since the mid-1980s, where I have based my career as a visual artist. Living here has shaped other sides of me and enriched my identity." 

It is within this context that her work emerges, guided by the interplay of "organised complexity emerging out of simplicity," and the concept of "the intersection between art and mathematical, scientific thinking," conceptually woven into the fabric of 1001 Spheres.

More than an installation 

Teaming up with engagement designer Judith Thompson, Corbelletto's creation of 1001 Spheres embodies a deliberate effort to transcend art beyond aesthetics. Instead, it becomes a catalyst for fostering meaningful connections and instigating societal change. 

In the dynamic landscape of gender equity, where progress and setbacks often coexist, public art emerges as a potent force for reflection and inspiration. It serves as a poignant reminder of art's unparalleled capacity to transcend boundaries, ignite dialogue, and envision a more equitable future. 

As Corbelletto succinctly puts it, "I wanted to find the ‘public’ in public art. I wanted to create intentional connections with the public and the people in relation to this project. To give faces, voices to the generic public of public art". 

Indeed, 1001 Spheres is far from a static entity. Within its intricate design, we encounter more than just a sculpture; we discover a profound resonance—a testament to creativity, collaboration, and collective transformation. 

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1001 Spheres. Photo: David St George.

Its presence reverberates across boundless horizons of possibility, embodying the enduring power of art to shape and inspire change. 

Nestled within the park's natural gathering place, the sculpture becomes a catalyst for curated conversations, artistic responses, and collaborative endeavours.

Corbelletto expands on the communal significance, stating, "Societally, we are at an inflection point; we want to celebrate the progress that has been made towards equality. We want to look forward with optimism to a bright future. 

"At the same time, around the globe and in Aotearoa, we see the erosion of rights and freedoms. The rise of bigotry and polarised, binary thinking."

By focusing on the pivotal moment 125 years ago in the nation's collective consciousness, 1001 Spheres serves as a poignant reminder of the strides made towards gender equality, while also acknowledging the ongoing struggle for inclusivity and representation. 

It pays homage to the trailblazing suffragists who paved the way for future generations while amplifying the diverse perspectives and visions of individuals and organisations engaged in contemporary gender advocacy.

Moreover, it underscores the importance of cultural expression in shaping societal narratives. By situating 1001 Spheres within the public realm, the work invites visitors to engage with history in a visceral and immersive manner, forging connections across generations and communities. 

Corbelletto further details, "Where that brings us to is the belief that more than ever, we need ways to connect, to exchange ideas, to have positive and generative conversations. 

"1001 Spheres is a joyful presence in Monte Cecilia Park. A celebratory artwork, projecting toward an envisioned future of inclusivity and equality where all genders are valued, and everyone can fully realise their human potential."

More questions than answers

As we reflect on the significance of commemorating 125 years since the women's suffrage movement through public art like 1001 Spheres, it's crucial to acknowledge that the struggle for gender equality in New Zealand is far from over. 

Despite significant milestones, the societal landscape continues to be shaped by norms and expectations that align with masculine socialisation and gender roles. Many feminists have pointed out that the public discourse often excludes topics attributed to women and femininity, such as discussions about bodies, emotions, and relationships. 

This bias persists in various institutional realms, including academia, where individuals advocating for non-sexist environments face considerable risks compared to those who perpetuate discriminatory attitudes.

Furthermore, individuals who deviate from traditional gender norms face additional challenges. Whether they identify as butch, intersexual, trans, queer, or simply reject traditional gender scripts, they often encounter resistance and prejudice. In some cases, even those who conform to traditional feminine attire risk being marginalised and having their contributions dismissed or attributed solely to their gender or appearance. 

In essence, the ongoing struggle for gender equality in New Zealand necessitates continued commemoration and promotion of initiatives like 1001 Spheres. By recognising the persisting challenges and biases embedded within society, we can strive to create a more inclusive and equitable future where all individuals - regardless of gender identity - can thrive and be seen.

So, what's the answer for women? Do we still need a gendered society? It doesn’t seem to be working for anybody, so perhaps it's about time to turn our focus on reshaping the world around us. 

It's a collective effort - one sculpture, one conversation, one step at a time.

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