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Gallery Celebrates Reasons For Voyaging

7 June 2004

Two-hundred and thirty-five years ago, in a scene reminiscent of popular fiction, Captain James Cook opened his secret orders from the Royal Society of London and sailed due south from Tahiti.

Cook had been sent to Tahiti on the Endeavour to observe the Transit of Venus and calibrate the distance between the sun and the Earth by charting Venus’ passage across its face on 3 June 1769. On completing his astronomical mission, Cook’s secret orders directed him to search for Terra Australis Incognita, sending him on a voyage of discovery that would begin a new chapter in New Zealand’s history.

On 8 June, Venus will again transit the sun, for the first time in 120 years. Although the event will only be visible from the Northern Hemisphere, the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu will mark the significance of the Transit in this country’s history with a series of special rotations of the Reasons for Voyaging sculpture.

The sculpture, which is programmed to partially rotate once a month, will perform a complete thirteen-minute rotational cycle on the hour every hour from 10am until 5pm on Tuesday 8 June.

Reasons for Voyaging, by local sculptor Graham Bennett, consists of seven angled stainless steel poles up to 13 metres tall, supporting curved elements. The sculpture’s positional shifts reflect the lunar calendar.

Graham Bennett says Reasons for Voyaging suggests the great sea voyages across the Pacific, with allusions to traditional navigational systems, such as star maps. On the south face of each pole, sections of ancient totara, gifted by Ngai Tahu provide contrast and make a further direct reference to the natural world. 

Gallery Curator of Contemporary Art Felicity Milburn says the performance is particularly appropriate given Reasons for Voyaging’s connection to celestial patterns and the exploration by Polynesians and Europeans of the Pacific.

“There has also been ongoing interest from the public in the movements of the sculpture,” says Felicity Milburn.

“Our celebration of the Transit of Venus will be the perfect opportunity for people to experience this aspect of Graham Bennett’s landmark work.”

The Transit of Venus Reasons for Voyaging performances will take place on the hour, every hour from 10am and 5pm on Tuesday 8 June in the Sculpture Garden of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. This is a free public event.

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