The Unseen can be seen at Tauranga Art Gallery

Artist-researcher Gabby O’Connor will be giving a free public talk at Tauranga Art Gallery today at 11am with Associate Professor Karen Fisher. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.

This morning at Tauranga Art Gallery, artist-researcher Gabby O'Connor and Associate Professor Karen Fisher will be giving a free public talk about ‘The Unseen', an artwork which is being unveiled at Tauranga Art Gallery today.

Gabby led the creation of this collaborative artwork as part of her PhD research, and Karen is Gabby's PhD supervisor and a research theme leader at the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge and will be giving the free public talk at 11am this morning.

During the week of May 10-14, daily workshops were held for 450 local school students from seven Tauranga schools, where they used art to learn about the relationship between our marine environments and the risks of environmental and climate changes.

Students from Otumoetai Intermediate, Matua School, Omanu School, Pillans Point School and Ohope School attended workshops held 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. The children then used rope to ‘draw' what they learned.

Gabby 's research has shown ‘The Unseen' – a giant community artwork made from rope - successfully uses art to communicate the relationship between our marine environments and the risks of environmental and climate changes.

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.

Her PhD supervisor Associate Professor Karen Fisher from the University of Auckland Sustainable Seas Challenge agrees.

'The Unseen helps to build trust and connect people with the science in a way that is meaningful to them. It is especially compelling when it's relevant to their local area,” says Karen.

‘The Unseen' grows with every workshop. This latest iteration of the artwork – incorporating the latest rope drawings created by Tauranga school students – will be exhibited at the Tauranga Art Gallery from May 22 until September 14.

Since 2017, Gabby has hosted workshops with more than 2,000 school students and 200 community members around New Zealand.

'When you see this massive intricate artwork and you know that you've been part of that – you are a little piece in the puzzle. That helps you relate to your place in the world and how you engage with your local marine environment and the wider ecosystem,” says Karen.

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.

Gabby is now taking this growing collaboration on a final exhibition tour around New Zealand. It was exhibited in Wellington earlier this year.

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 Aotearoa New Zealand's vast marine world.

The Unseen' is part of the Navigating marine social-ecological systems project. Led by Karen Fisher, this project aimed to identify and/or improve our understanding of institutional, social and cultural factors that need to be incorporated into ecosystem-based management for it to be successfully used to manage Aotearoa New Zealand's marine resources.

The vision of Sustainable Seas is for New Zealand to have healthy marine ecosystems that provide value for all New Zealanders. It brings together around 250 ecologists, biophysical scientists, social scientists, economists, and experts in matauranga Maori and policy from across New Zealand. It is funded by MBIE and hosted by NIWA.

Sustainable Seas is one of eleven National Science Challenges. These align and focus New Zealand's research on large and complex issues, bringing together scientists and experts from different organisations and across disciplines to achieve a common goal.

The Unseen exhibition at Tauranga:

Public talk: 11am, Saturday May 22, Tauranga Art Gallery

Date of exhibition: May 22 – September 14 2021

Time: 10am – 4pm daily

Location: Tauranga Art Gallery, 108 Willow Street, Tauranga


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