A hikoi designed to get Aucklanders thinking more about the past and future of their harbour will launch a major exhibition at a city art gallery.

Lisa Beauchamp, curator at the recently refurbished Gus Fisher Gallery, says the exhibition, called The Slipping Away, coincides with plastic free July – a global environmental campaign challenging consumers to refuse single-use plastics.

New Zealand, with more than 15,000kms of coastline, produces five times the global daily waste average making us the tenth most wasteful nation in the world.

As Beauchamp, who arrived from the United Kingdom last year, was planning the exhibition, she learned the Gus Fisher Gallery's Shortland Street location was once Auckland's original shoreline.

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"Like many people, I am concerned about the impact of plastic waste on our environment, especially the oceans, so given the exhibition coincided with plastic free July, it made sense to do something which drew attention to the importance of the sea in the lives of Aucklanders. A hikoi tracing the reclamation of land back to the original shoreline seemed like a good way to do this."

Ngāti Whātua artist Graham Tipene, who designed Albany's Tirohanga Whānui walking and cycling bridge and the panelling in the Waterview Tunnel, will lead today's free hikoi which starts at Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse Sculpture. The hikoi goes past Britomart onto Fort Street before diverting to Queen Street, where the Wai Horotiu stream once ran, up to Shortland Street.

"Given what we know about the impact plastic is having on the ocean, it would be naïve of us not to have that at the forefront of our minds as we walk," says Tipene. "We have to look at new ways to keep our waterways clean so that the generations to come can still enjoy them."

He hopes people will one day look at photos of mass plastic pollution on beaches as "bad memories" and not something they have to contend with: "I want them to be able to say, 'thank goodness this was cleaned up and we now know better'."

Beauchamp wants the gallery to look for new ways to promote art and the conversations it can start about topical issues.

Bill Culbert, Pacific Flotsam, Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; purchased 2008. Image reproduced courtesy Hopkinson Mossman and the Bill and Pip Culbert Trust.
Bill Culbert, Pacific Flotsam, Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; purchased 2008. Image reproduced courtesy Hopkinson Mossman and the Bill and Pip Culbert Trust.

The Slipping Away aims to take visitors on a journey above and below the ocean using installations, film and projection. The centrepiece is the large-scale light based Pacific Flotsam (2007), created by the late New Zealand artist Bill Culbert and shown at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Pacific Flotsam will fill the entirety of the Gus Fisher Gallery's largest space and, says Beauchamp, is a timely and poignant presentation to remember the artist, who died this year aged 84, and think about the environmental themes often found in his work.

It is accompanied by a film by Danish arts collective Superflex, which shows a life-sized replica of a McDonald's restaurant as it slowly floods with water during a 20 minute time period. NZ artist Joyce Campbell's ethereal work Flightdream, nominated for the 2016 Walters Prize, also features alongside a new work by Campbell as well as Taniwha Tales by Mata Aho Collective, Climate Change Heartbreak Poems by Wellington-based artist Raewyn Martin and the video Bottles / Mosh by Auckland artist Terry Urbahn.

The Slipping Away Hikoi is today from 4pm starting from Queen's Wharf; the Slipping Away opens at Gus Fisher Gallery, Shortland Street from its arrival and runs until September 7.

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