Large electronic billboards beside some of Auckland’s busiest streets are showing an innovative way of highlighting an urgent message about an issue that endangers the unique part of our natural heritage and identity.
Rather than advertising, this month Auckland commuters and pedestrians are seeing evocative artwork and challenging statements at three digital billboards in the Auckland CBD, Remuera, and Eden Terrace.
Featuring the new art of one of New Zealand’s foremost cutting-edge painters, expressionist artist Emily Karaka, the catchy billboards in Fanshawe St by Nelson St, in Remuera’s Green Lane East near Ascot Ave, and on Eden Terrace’s Newtown Road are raising awareness about plant diseases affecting native trees and plants. Created by digital artists Tyrone Ohia and Max Quinn-Tapara, along with design company Extended Whanau, the billboards are raising awareness about the threats of kauri dieback and myrtle rust.
On display until early December to highlight the need to protect forests as a precious gift to future generations, the art billboards coincide with an exhibition at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi, West Auckland, Ihirangaranga / Resonances of the Forest exhibition. The creative endeavours are part of a collaborative research programme Ngā Rākau Taketake run by the BioHeritage National Science Challenge. Ngā Rākau Taketake aims to protect and restore the historic long-term relationship and connection with kauri and myrtle trees, which include iconic species such as pōhutukawa, mānuka, kānuka, and rātā.
Kauri trees are affected by a microorganism known as PA, which is short for Phytophthora agathidicida (how to say it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnQ7JNR8UU), which reduces the kauri tree’s ability to take water and nutrients from the soil. Already found in Northland, the Great Barrier Island, and the Coromandel Peninsula, PA could have a devastating effect on New Zealand’s kauri forests. Kauri is one of the largest and longest-living trees in the world. They can grow over 50 metres tall with trunk girths up to 16 metres, and these giants of the forest can live for over 2,000 years. The spread of PA can be reduced by avoiding moving soil around the roots, keeping to tracks and cleaning any footwear that touches the ground.
Myrtle rust is a disease caused by the wind-carried fungal pathogen known scientifically as Austropuccinia psidii. The rust causes yellow powdery eruptions and grey fuzzy spore growth on leaves, with some leaves becoming buckled or twisted and then dying off. It may also kill the infected trees. The unwanted organism can’t be eliminated but its progress can be slowed to protect important species. BioHeritage has been working with young researchers and local communities to collect seeds for seed-banks and investigating how Indigenous wisdom may help ensure the uniquely New Zealand trees don’t become extinct.
This weekend artist Angela Kilford is running creative workshops with conversations about myrtle rust. On 11 and 12 November at Te Uru, Kilford is offering free workshops exploring through art the beauty of plants and the impact of disease. Participants can try adding myrtle rust stitches to prints, and join the discussion about the disease and the importance of trees.
On Saturday 11 November (10:30 am) the three curators from Toi Taiao Whakatairanga will give short talks about the creative collaboration inside and outside the gallery for the Ihirangaranga / Resonances of the Forest exhibition. A founding trustee of The Kauri Project, Airane Craig-Smith, researcher, artist and conservationist Dr Mark Harvey, artist and designer Chris McBride and researcher Dr Nick Waipara will discuss their perspectives on the project making the threat real to audiences through events, activities and exhibitions which use art as a tool alongside science and other cultural knowledge.