May 25, 2015

Greg O'Brien and "Whale Years" at AWF15

          Auckland Writers Festival

“Mariners read the ocean much as you would a book. Each wave a page.”

Thanks to Ella from Readers Services for this guest post.

At the Auckland Writers Festival last week I descended into the belly of the great whale that is the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki to hear Greg O'Brien speak about Whale Years, his latest book of poetry, and the journeys and experiences in the seas of the South Pacific that have informed the collection and left an indelible mark on his prolific artistic output.

Greg O'Brien is a man of many talents. Well known as a poet and writer, as well as a visual artist, he's also known to be a bit of a “cultural odd job man”. Some of the odd jobs he's been involved in over the years include curating and writing about art; and importantly, advocating for the environment, our special place in the Pacific and the people and creatures that live within it.

Lately he has been preoccupied, or self admittedly obsessed by whales, even though he has never been lucky enough to see one in reality, and wonders if maybe he prefers it that way. He likes to explore ideas of fantasy and the subconscious in his work, and it would seem to be the intangibility and elusiveness of these ocean dwellers that appeal to his active imagination.

The hour was a meandering exploration of our oceans, our environment and the life that exists within them, including enthusiastic readings from Whale Years, beautiful images, videos and tall tales from Greg's travels.

Greg O'Brien has been writing and musing on whales ever since his 2011 voyage with a rag tag group of artists on the ship HMNZS Otago,  which followed the migratory routes of whales to the most remote part of New Zealand, the Kermadec islands, and on to Tonga.

These experiences inspired something in Greg and the eight other artists on board, something that O'Brien admits he found hard to shake. The artists -- image makers, writers and poets, designers, a film maker and a sound artist -- took on their roles as ambassadors for the ocean with enthusiasm, producing fascinating imaginative responses to this experience.

The spirit of exploration, and collaboration that developed from this journey was present throughout the hour as Greg O'Brien introduced the audience to some of the work that came out of the trip. John Pule's etchings of imagined flora and fauna, Robin White's beautiful collaborative tapa works and Fiona Hall's sculptures, chosen to represent Australia in this year's Venice Biennale, were just a few of the many intriguing works that illustrated his poems.

We were brought back to reality when Greg started talking cold hard facts and the environmental purpose of this trip really hit home. In October 2011, a few months after the artists returned from their journey, this region was affected by the horrifying Rena disaster and the fate of the area became even more precarious.

This was a memorable talk which left me with much to mull over as I emerged, rather dazed, out into busy Wellesley St, images of whales still swimming through my mind.

-- Ella

John Pule, Kermadec Exhibition (

Whale Years
Whale Years 

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 16:34


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