14 December 2008

Wild Bill in Cloudland

Painter Bill Hammond's 1989 visit to the Auckland Islands has become somewhat of an apocryphal story, which we are told resulted in the brooding bird paintings that followed. What little most of know of this forsaken place are the hallucinatory images Hammond has fed into our imaginations. It is shrouded in further mystery from the fact that Hammond, who does not do interviews, has never spoken publically of his experience there. Photographer Laurence Aberhart was on that same expedition and last year added to the legend in the Jingle Jangle Morning exhibition catalogue with the tale of a long, cold night on Enderby Island, holed up in car cases and being entertained at "Bill's Bar". To conclude the catalogue's written section, there are two nocturnal photographs by Lloyd Godman, also on that trip along with Gerda Leenards, of a possessed-looking Hammond stalking through a Rata forest - these photos are now on show in the Auckland Art Gallery's Enchanted Garden exhibition.

But what is the reality of this mythical, far-off bird-land? Even a search on google maps sheds little light, with none of these subantarctic islands yet being marked. With some guidance from a traditional atlas, the ISLANDS are easily found and, at first appearance, present a primal view of the chiselled, craggy landforms on which shipwrecked castaways have often had to survive. Wikipedia tells us the MOSTLY uninhabited islands form the southern-most edge of the submerged continent Zealandia and are formed from volcanoes, with the main strait that is the hub of the southern end being the crater of an extinct volcano.

Zooming in, the crater seems completely shrouded in shadow and cloud, until one seemingly bursts through to a CLEAR VIEW of grey, icy waters and bare hills. Up on Enderby, you can almost smell the salt air as rows of Hokusai-waves queue to crash over CRAGGY ROCKS encrusted with dribbling layers guanno. Off the west coast is the evocatively named DISAPPOINTMENT ISLAND, which sits within a blurred circle of digital void, much like the time warp which has carvedthe island's NORTH-WEST TIP into several overlapping temporal zones.

Nearby Macquarie Island is not only draped in cloud from LONG-RANGE, it is completely LOST from the map, forcing you to drive blind until you get into close-range. At its northern tip a striking HORIZON LINE is formed at the point where the map disappears back into cyberspace.

Image: Cover of F.E. Raynal's Wrecked on a Reef, a tale of shipwreck on the Auckland Islands

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Art from Space is an exploration of art-related phenomena that manifests in interesting ways on Google’s aerial maps. It is also an experiment in curatorial practice; collecting, presenting and contextualising items in ways that users can explore, free of curator-imposed framing and sequencing. This blog is Art from Space’s developmental musings made public, where items are introduced to the project in real time, rather than awaiting the grand unveiling of a completed exhibition. Specific locations of interest are highlighted in CAPS and linked to a map for further exploration. Visit the mother ship HERE.