Client: European Cultural Centre
Location: Venice, Italy
Completion date: 2020
Artist & Project Lead
Bianca Bonaldi / Rocco Schenkel
European Cultural Centre
Shipping Agent NZ
Global Specialised Services
Shipping / Installation Italy
Rich Rigging / Art Workshop
The ancient stone sculpture Zealandia embraces the landscape and heralds change. Celebrating the recent discovery of the World’s 8th continent, a submerged landmass with islands emerging from the Pacific Ocean, Zealandia rises up like clashing tectonic plates, an X-figure marking a new place on Earth. Carved from a single block of 100 million year old precious stone discovered in the remote mountains of New Zealand, the sculpture combines ancient materials, technical innovation and minimalist form. On a pedestal of Italian stone, the figure evokes classical statuary, regal and Goddess-like, both powerful and graceful. Minerals and mica create a marbled effect reminiscent of the flow of drapery and veins snake up the figure like muscles or skin. The futurist geometry reinvents the ‘perfect proportions’ of da Vinci’s Renaissance Vitruvian Man, with new proportions including the shape of women from continents across the globe. With its shadow circling on the ground, the figure becomes XX – the female genetic code. Amid global movements seeking equality, respect and inclusion for all, Zealandia invites a shift in perception. Located in the fragile islands of Venice and the ecosystem of New Zealand, the sculpture reconnects humanity to nature and proposes diversity as the ideal form.
Created simultaneously for two landscapes in separate Hemispheres – Italy and New Zealand, Zealandia draws on their distinct conditions to create a unique sense of place and belonging in each. Atmosphere, light, nature and cultural contexts are harnessed to spark curiosity and generate ideas. Collaborating with the European Cultural Centre in Venice, the sculpture was sited in Giardini Marinaressa, a historic waterfront park. Framed by Mediterranean pines, the X-form stands in the heart of a circle, a turning point of pathways used by locals and La Biennale visitors. Through physical and metaphoric frameworks, Zealandia asserts new ratios in Venice, the home of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, immortalised also on the one Euro coin. Hands touch the stone glowing in the Venetian sunset, fluid like the seasons and time. As ships and ferries cross the canals, Zealandia faces the sea, a modern-day Victory of Samothrace. Sited inland in New Zealand on the slopes of a volcano, the sculpture rises from an emerald-green forest, a primal landscape in the 8th Continent. Like a spirit figure, it evokes indigenous Māori creation stories, reaching up to the sky-father while grounded in mother Earth. Of balanced proportions, Zealandia embodies the ideals of a nation, independent and free.
Led by Gatfield Studio, the Zealandia project spanned 3 years and involved 2 teams working in Italy and NZ. Selected by the European Cultural Centre for 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale exhibition ‘Time, Space, Existence’, artist Gill Gatfield created a totemic stone sculpture drawing on physical and cultural landscapes, and the ideals that underpin an emerging nation on a world stage. As a geologically new land, NZ has few rock deposits suitable for large-scale work. After an extensive search, a rare block of stone was discovered near the Southern Alps. Carefully extracted but with no machinery large enough in NZ to cut the rock, it was sent to China and returned to NZ where the sculpture was made. Working with a team of engineers and stone specialists, the complex 2.3m high (7.5’) sculpture was realised, achieving the artist’s precise geometry and a backbone of steel, a symbol of Zealandia’s inner strength. Custom-built crating protected the artwork for sea freight managed by specialists in Italy and NZ. Installation crews employed creative solutions for local conditions – in Venice building a hoist to lift Zealandia due to crane weight restrictions on the Islands, and in New Zealand traversing the heritage Government House lawn using robotic crane equipment – from Italy.
After a journey of 62,000 km (38,500 miles) from New Zealand’s Southern Alps to the Venice Biennale and back, Zealandia was welcomed to the heritage grounds of NZ Government House Auckland in December 2020 by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy. In this place of national significance, the sculpture reflects a sovereign scene. The Governor-General symbolises New Zealand's unity and leadership, a position held in recent times, like others in NZ’s system of democracy, by impactful women leaders. In 2021 for the first time, a Māori woman leader Dame Cynthia Kiro was appointed Governor-General, reinforcing the nation’s bicultural roots. Zealandia’s inclusive geometry and intent celebrates this and other leadership firsts. Facing east, the X-figure embraces change, greeting the morning sun and each new day with open-arms. Zealandia bears witness to national events held on the ceremonial lawn, building a collective memory of people recognised for service, and the passage of international leaders, dignitaries, Queens and Kings. In this historic landscape filled with rare plants, trees and birdlife, the stone DNA marker links humanity with the land. At the edge of a lava flow and framed by silver ferns, Zealandia shines beneath the stars of a Southern Cross night-sky.