whakatāne museum’s artist residency immerses participants in the country’s only active volcano

located in the eastern bay of plenty, new zealand, the whakatāne museum recently established the southern hemisphere’s first volcanic artist residency, inviting 20 creative people from around the world to be immersed in the country’s only active offshore volcano. the invited artists and cultural managers will become the first participants in the new program, where each will be given time, space, unique environments and cultural heritage to explore, and then take these experiences and new inspiration to produce whatever comes naturally, adding a layer of geothermal potential to their 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.

whakatāne museum’s volcanic artist residency; illustrations by ross murray

‘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.’ during the whakatāne museum residency, visiting artists will become temporary members of the eastern bay of plenty community, spending between 2 and 6 weeks to explore the local heritage and culture, while each will also spend a day making the journey to whakaari/white island, guided by a geologist from program partner white island tours. 

the museum’s exhibition coordinator and project manager victoria sinclair has been working to shape the pilot program into a major creative development platform. ‘we’ve transformed the council’s historic harbor master house into a temporary home for poets, choreographers, sculptors, film-makers, writers, and people working in a creative field,’ sinclair mentions, ‘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’.

scenes from the april 2018 volcanic artist residency pilot program with christchurch-based artists edwards + johann; photograph by troy baker; thanks to project partner white island tours

to test the idea, whakatāne museum invited 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 visited the whakaari / white island, guided by geologist sarah bluett. they gathered new images, ideas, and inspiration, and generated material for a new whakatāne installation based on their geothermal investigations. ‘whakaari left a huge impression on us, quite overwhelming at the time, but truly magical,’ mention the artists, ‘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 theater stage you find yourself in the middle of the action all the time — yet with so much intimate detail and finesse. the 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.’

invited creatives include film director jackie van beek, hawkes bay painter freeman white, 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. in july, film producer ainsley gardiner and writer/director briar grace-smith became the first artists-in-residence to stay at the harbor master house, and after making their first visit to white island, they decided to collaborate on a screenplay based on the patricia grace novel ‘cousins’. in august, wellington-based multi-disciplinary artist jordana bragg, whose work includes writing, live performance, still and moving image, and visual communication will take over the harbor master house along with paul brobbel, senior curator and collections leader at govett-brewster art gallery in new plymouth.

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edited by: sofia lekka angelopoulou | designboom