Domain Transformer

A Sculpture Proposal by John Edgar
3rd October, 1990


This sculpture proposal is lodged as part of the Sculpture 2001 group. Following a public exhibition of marquets in the Auckland Museum in 2000, the project aims to place up to ten major permanent sculptures in the Auckland Domain as the beginning of the Sculpture Trail.


As an Aucklander born and bred, and presently living at Karekare in the Waitakere Ranges, I have always been very much involved with the Auckland Domain. I have been going there since I was a child, both to visit the wonderful park and gardens, and to explore the fascinating Auckland Museum. In my career as an artist I have had many exhibitions in the Auckland Museum, the first in 1982 and the latest in 1998 when my exhibition Lie of the Land was chosen to be the inaugural exhibition in the newly constructed Applied Arts Gallery.

I have been a practicing sculptor for 22 years. I regard the first 12 years of my career as an apprenticeship, when I learnt all I could about making hard-stone sculpture, using jade, argillite, basalt and greywacke. For the past ten years I have made larger sculptures in hard stones such as granite, basalt and marble. Many of these works are now in private and public collections, both interior and exterior. In this period I have toured three major solo exhibitions of my sculpture around New Zealand. These three exhibitions have shown in 20 public art galleries and museums including Auckland Museum, Lopdell Gallery, Sarjeant Art Gallery, Manawatu Art Gallery, Dowse Art Museum, Hawkes Bay Museum, Gisborne Art Gallery, Suter Art Gallery, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, Southland Museum and Art Gallery. I have always been commended for my professional attention to details ensuring that my high standards are met.

As a result of these touring exhibitions I have received and successfully completed many commissions and works from the exhibitions have also been acquired for private, public, and corporate sculpture collections. I have developed an excellent working relationship with Trethewey Granite and Marble where I have worked on some of my larger sculptures. Over the past ten years they have given me generous sponsorship and this will extend to some aspects of the larger works that I plan to create.

THE SCULPTURE - Transformer (working title)

The sculpture comprises two stones. The first is a stele, a 3.5 metre high granite standing stone with digital inscription. This is a memorial device, a modern monument which relates to monuments of the past, and their importance in giving identity and defining who we are as a nation. The proximity to the Auckland War Memorial Museum is especially pertinent. This stele is made in granite, the most permanent of materials, and is a culmination of my work of the past 20 years. By embedding slices of a contrasting granite within the main stone, a digital inscription is made, an indelible message written within the stone. The stone is to be sourced from Coromandel and India. (The black and white Coromandel granite is used as the foundation blocks of the Auckland Museum, and for the plinth for the statue of Robert Burns in the Domain.) Combined with this will be a red granite which is being sourced at present in India.

Together with this digital marker there will be a large 'pebble'. So large that it will dwarf the observer, and lying on the grassy slope, it will seem unsteady, on the edge of moving, sliding or rolling. It will be fixed however, with no possibility of movement, so that they will be able to be climbed and sat on. This large pebble will appear as an erratic, a remnant left from some long-eroded beach, high and dry, a memory of some time past when the world was inhabited by greater life forms. It is also a worn-down remnant of another (broken) digital marker, again alluding to the passage of time, and how even stone monuments wear away, leaving fragments as the only record of a civilisation. The worn and eroded pebble still contains some of the digital message and the questions must be asked about how much of the message do we have, and if the messages of the two stones to be read together and how they relate to each other. And what do they mean, what is their coded message, these algorithms of undecipherable information?

The opportunity to place a permanent sculpture in the Auckland Domain is a very special honour for me. The sculpture is to be located in open grassland on the edge of the totara tress near the intersection of Lower Domain Drive and Domain Drive. This is on the opposite side of the road to the Robert Burns statue and the large Morton Bay Fig Tree.

It will be very much a public sculpture, being interesting, accessible and interactive. I want the work to be accessible to the public and would like to position it in such a way as to be viewed from many different angles and especially from above and from below. The site that I have chosen will allow this. The sculpture will enhance the area, and interact with the public. I hope that people will sit on the stone, warmed by the sun, and want to experience the tactile qualities of the polished granite. I do not consider that the sculpture will in any way detract from the environment visually. It will blend well with the strong verticals of the tree trunks, and the whole area around and under the grove of totara has a feeling of age and a strong spirit. My recent exhibition of similar sculptures at Artis Gallery in Parnell (Sept 1999) proved that people are enthusiastic to engage my sculptures, not just physically and intellectually, but also emotionally and spiritually.

The proximity of my sculpture to the memorial to Robert Burns is especially important. As a 5th generation pakeha of Scottish extraction, I am honouring the great tradition of words in our culture, that we brought to Aotearoa and which are now part of our heritage. That the sculptures are both made in some part from Coromandel Granite further connects the works, standing on either side of the road encircling Pukekawa.

I know that people of all ages are interested in my sculpture. Children especially relate to the digital messages, and often are responsible for introducing their parents to my sculptures. This was especially so when Lie of the Land was exhibited at the Auckland Museum in 1998.

This sculpture has especial relevance to the Auckland Domain and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. All visitors to this place are aware of the sacred ground and the importance to our region and to New Zealand of this historic site. There are many memorials in the domain, and my sculpture will be a new addition to these. My sculpture is a reminder about the passage of time, of how all these things of man will pass, as Shakespeare says

'Not marble nor the gilded monuments of princes
Shall outlive this powerful rhyme'

This serves to remind the viewer of how even the greatest markers of our civilisation will in the end erode away, leaving only fragments, and then dust.

Auckland Museum is a treasury of past cultural artefacts. Here are our touchstones to the past. But unless we carefully remember to preserve that past, all signs of it are worn away. This is clearly evident in the way that hundreds of years of Maori life in this area are now so worn away that many people in the domain are unaware of the rich past on which they stand. So too are the signs of the geological past of this area. That this was once a explosive tuff crater is so modified now by time and humans that we need reminding that human time (especially in this land), is so short compared with geological time. We need to understand and acknowledge the past in order to plan for a sustainable future, and my sculpture is a reminder of this.