The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour (2018)

Art, the internet and national identity in Aotearoa New Zealand

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From the year Y2K the Southern Cross Cable carried 98% of New Zealand’s international internet traffic, making it the nation’s primary communication line with the outside world (until a second cable eventually arrived in 2017, and others since).

Despite popular perceptions of the internet being an intangible or atmospheric thing (“cyberspace”, “wireless” or “the cloud”, for example), Aotearoa’s international communications connectivity depends on cables that are buried underground and snaked across the ocean floor.

The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour was developed between 2014-2018 and emerged from an earlier project with Letting Space. Titled Te Ika-a-Akoranga, this involved the recovery, restoration, and digitisation of the ceramic tile mural Te Ika-a-Maui (1961) by the Wellington-based artist E. Mervyn Taylor. Depicting the demi-god Māui fishing up Aotearoa’s North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui), this mural had been commissioned by the New Zealand Government to publicly commemorate the highly-anticipated Commonwealth Pacific Cable (COMPAC), a telephony cable that went live in 1962. The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour contrasts this historic moment of widespread national pride with the comparative secrecy that surrounds the Southern Cross Cable today.

Holloway-Smith initially intended to follow E. Mervyn Taylor’s lead and create four site-specific public artworks to mark four key Southern Cross Cable sites in Aotearoa, linked by a tour guide publication directing visitors to the site. However this proposal was thwarted: rejected by Spark NZ on security grounds.

This led to a multi-platform art project, initially exhibited as an installation at City Gallery Wellington from 3 March – 29 July 2018 as part of This Is New Zealand. In March 2019, due to Holloway-Smith’s continued advocacy for the mural, Te Ika-a-Maui was reinstalled as a public artwork inside Takapuna Library. Coincidentally, this location happens to be the first stop on The Southern Cross Cable tour.

The project lives on.

Works

In addition to Te Ika-a-Maui, The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour includes four main components:

The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour (Publication) (2018)

Printed passport-sized booklet. Edition 1 (grey): 2000 copies. Edition 2 (white): 6000 copies. Limited edition (50): Sail stitched binding.

Provides information directing readers to the physical sites of the cable in New Zealand. A webpage featuring additional content can only be accessed with login information obtained by visiting the four physical sites of the tour. Designed by Duncan Munro.

A Power Troubles The Still (2018)

Single-channel video work, 00:01:10

Shows the artist scuba diving to the Southern Cross Cable near Takapuna, holding it and performing a series of actions.

The Speargun Conspiracy (2018)

Single-channel video work, 4k resolution, 00:05:09

Describes an alleged conspiracy between the New Zealand government, the GCSB, and the Five Eyes network, where the New Zealand public were spied on via a tap on the Southern Cross Cable. In this video, a new theory relating to this narrative is expressed publicly for the first time: an argument that Project Speargun was undertaken at the Whenuapai site via an intercepting cable laid between the Royal New Zealand Air Force base and the cable landing station, and further supported by a data centre built within the Air Force base.

The Long Walk to Northern Waters (2018)

Etched and painted wooden marker posts, each 1200 x 113 x 113mm

These mimic cable marker posts found on Muriwai Beach. Each is engraved with the name and operating dates of the seven cables that have landed and been buried at the site. Ultimately created with the intent that they would be placed on site at Muriwai.

Bibliography

Dibble, Fran. Exhibition about New Zealand a great way for Wellington gallery to reopen. Stuff.co.nz, 31 Mar, 2018.

Holloway-Smith, Bronwyn. “‘Crazy journey’ to the Southern Cross Cable.” Interview by Lynn Freeman. Standing Room Only, RadioNZ National Standing Room Only, Radio New Zealand National, Feb 25, 2018. Audio, 21’48”.

Holloway-Smith, Bronwyn. “The Southern Cross cable : a tour : art, the internet and national identity in Aotearoa-New Zealand.”. An exegesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand, 2018.

Leonard, Robert, Aaron Lister, and Moya Lawson eds. This Is New Zealand. Exhibition catalogue. Wellington: City Gallery Wellington, 2018.

McDonald, Dani. City Gallery exhibition explores Kiwi identity and Bronwyn Holloway-Smith’s inquiry into digital NZ. Dominion Post, 5 Mar 2018.

Ng, K. Emma. Artistic Agency in Public Agencies. The Pantograph Punch, 13 August 2018.

Putt, Sarah, “New technology with Sarah Putt.” Interview by Kathryn Ryan. Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand National, April 5, 2018. Audio, 16’07”.

Putt, Sarah. “Southern Cross Cable tracked across NZ’s North Island.” Computerworld New Zealand, April 2018.

Ramage, Stella, “Wellington: This Is New Zealand”, Art New Zealand, No.166, Winter 2018, p.43.

This is the website of Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, an artist & writer based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
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