In October 2006 I embarked on a project to walk, all day every day, in the Queens Gardens adjacent to Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery. My intention was to experience the spirit of the place and to photograph what I observed. In my lunch breaks I researched the environmental and human history of the site.
The resulting exhibition at The Suter Gallery was intended to bring to light some of the stories related to the transformation of the site from a wilderness forest to the formal “Queen’s Gardens”, a place reminiscent of Victorian England.
The area was a Mahinga Kai (food gathering place) for local Māori. It was a rich source of tuna (eels), manu (birds), harakeke (flax) and other plant materials. The forest consisted of many tall trees, including totara, rimu, kahikatea, southern rata, miro and matai (which adorns the floor of the gallery). It was logged, using double ended pit-saws, and burnt by early European settlers to make way for a new vision.
Tools symbolising those used in the transformation of the site have been collected and imprinted with patterns from the indigenous plants of the area. I imagine that they hold a ’tissue memory’ of the trees they have been in contact with.
Nelson is a place where the indigenous lowland forest ecology and Māori history are largely invisible. These tools, rendered ‘useless’, become symbolic artefacts of a contemporary era of reforestation and repair.