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Hands to Bathe; Imagining a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary

A group of artists who voyaged with the Royal New Zealand Navy to the Kermadec region two and a half years ago are bringing works inspired by the experience to the Navy Museum in Devonport over the coming summer.
By the time the HMNZS Otago docked at Nuku’alofa in May 2011, the naval expression ‘hands to bathe’ had become both a catch-cry and a mantra for the nine ‘Kermadec’ artists who had been seariders during the voyage north from Devonport naval base.
Upon reaching the Tropic of Capricorn - as sailors know well - the engines of a naval vessel are switched off and, when the ship has stopped, the announcement ‘hands to bathe’ comes over the intercom. Crew members are then allowed to dive or jump into the ocean. While this is an ancient ritual, handed down from ‘the days of sail’, those of us on the ship were told, for the voyaging artists it came as a huge surprise and offered a few moments of exhilarating engagement with the immense, life-giving, all-encompassing ocean. The photographic images in the exhibition by Jason O’Hara and Bruce Foster capture something of this transcendent swim.
Sponsored by the Pew Environment Group, the artists on the Otago were participants in the ‘Kermadec’ art project. As well as being inspired by the pristine marine environment of the Kermadec region - midway between New Zealand and Tonga - the artists were energised by time spent on the vessel and the many levels of engagement with officers and crew.
While the artists explored the ocean and the role humanity can play therein, it was heartening for them to see the New Zealand Navy also examining its place in the oceanic scheme of things. In keeping with increased awareness of global environmental concerns, the navy now sees itself very much as a custodian of the ocean rather than a user of it. The sensible, sustainable management of the waters, the need to service offshore islands (like Raoul in the Kermadecs), our responsibilities towards our Pacific neighbours, and such environment dangers of pollution and over-fishing are now at the forefront of naval thinking.
The exhibition title is an apposite one. The ‘Kermadec’ art project offers a rich, full-bodied portrait of a remarkable region on earth - and one that New Zealand is fortunate to claim within its territory. As the subtitle of the exhibition makes clear, the artists who travelled on HMNZS Otago see it, the formation of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would be a huge step in the right direction.
Gregory O’Brien

Hands to Bathe: Imagining a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is on at the Navy Museum from 30 November 2013 to February 2014.

by Channel Editorial