The Unseen can be seen

Artist-researcher Gabby O’Connor with ‘The Unseen’ at Tauranga Art Gallery. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.

Strung up in Tauranga Art Gallery and extending across the floor is ‘The Unseen’, a giant community artwork made from rope.

Artist-researcher Gabby O’Connor led the creation of this collaborative artwork as part of her PhD research, involving students from local schools, and using art to communicate the relationship between our marine environments and the risks of environmental and climate changes.

During the week of May 10-14, daily workshops were held for 450 local school students from Otumoetai Intermediate, Matua School, Omanu School, Pillans Point School and Ohope School who attended workshops at Tauranga Art Gallery. Two workshops were also held at Bethlehem and Aquinas College with Associate Professor Kura Paul-Burke who is the Sustainable Seas project leader at University of Waikato. 

The students looked at the tides and seafood - kai moana - species in the sea near Tauranga and historical land reclamation. They then used rope to ‘draw’ what they learned.

Each rope drawing was added toThe Unseen’.

The Unseen is an art-science collaboration that allows people and communities to participate directly in making art and accessing scientists and scientific research,” says Gabby.

Created from 15km of rope and thousands of cable ties, the expansive installation continues to grow as the workshops commence at each city, with the varied sections of coloured ties tracing the different participating groups.

For the past seven years, the Sustainable Seas Challenge has been investigating ways for people to be engaged in marine management and the future of New Zealand’s vast marine world and resources.

The Unseen’ is part of the Sustainable Seas Challenge’s Navigating Marine Social-ecological Systems project.

Since 2017, Gabby has hosted workshops with more than 2000 school students and 200 community members around New Zealand. More than 700 workshop participants have provided feedback so far and 96 per cent of respondents mention the science concepts.

“This is astounding from a research perspective. Having such a high percentage shows us art is an impressive medium for growing community engagement with our marine environment and the science that supports it,” says Gabby.

‘The Unseen’ will be exhibited and can be seen at the Tauranga Art Gallery until September 14.

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