Project commission for Taranaki Artist in Residence Programme
Curator: Mercedes Vicente
- 70 litres used oil;
- Written correspondence;
- 22 letters to the editor printed in Taranaki Daily News;
- Text on Govett-Brewster Art Gallery facade;
- 390kg cement from Holcim New Zealand Ltd;
- 2.4 tonne cast concrete block (1.3m x 1.0m x 0.7m) positioned at 39deg 16’ 36”S, 173deg 29’ 42” E;
- Printed book (risograph, offset, cloth-bound).
Designer: Warren Olds / Studio Ahoy
Sign painting: Josh Manu, Gareth Radcliffe
Concrete casting: Howard's Precast Concrete
Sea transport: New Plymouth Underwater Ltd
Photography: Shaun Waugh, Maddie Leach, Bryan James
Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd
Taranaki Daily News
Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa
It's kind of a long story. It started in April last year when I became the owner of 70 litres of "whale oil" from a quenching tank when the School of Engineering closed down at Massey University in Wellington. I had casually asked Mike and Peter (the two technicians who were about to be made redundant) what the oil in the tank was. They swore black and blue that it was whale oil, and possibly sperm whale at that. Used for cooling hot metal, it was suspected that the oil had been in the tank since at least the early 1960s when it was apparently still possible to get hold of genuine whale oil, and it was commonly sought for quenching processes. Its authenticity was uncertain, and where it came from unknown, but it was plausible. I asked what was to become of it and they said it would be dumped in with old engine oil for recycling.
I said I would take it, I would siphon it out, and I would look after it somehow. I think I saw this as a position of self-appointed guardianship. The oil was a deep tawny brown and the quench tank had two inches of grey sludge at the bottom. It looked a lot like a large chip fryer. I felt the ‘whale’ should be returned to the sea.
“Letter to Companions”, 25 June 2012. If you find the good oil let us know. New Plymouth: Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2014.
Maddie Leach draws together a system of relations in If you find the good oil let us know, between institutions, media, scientists, engineers and readers of newspapers and letter-writers, and shows how this system comes into operation to mark the ecology with the depositing of a concrete block at the bottom of the sea outside of New Plymouth. . . The set of circumstances that are documented provides context for the execution of the work (and the subsequent fallout and spin-offs in terms of publicity) and suggests Leach’s careful planning extends the work through situations of power in the wake of creating the “concrete” object. It almost seems as if the finished object is secondary to the events surrounding it. The story goes that the artist discovered 70 litres of oil that she believed could have been whale oil. Although mistaken, the artist became the custodian of the idea of the whale, an archetype which links the land and the sea and allows sacred time to intervene in the ongoing work, obviously rooted in particular ways in the Aotearoa New Zealand context. The oil was used to fire a kiln to produce cement for a concrete block (a kind of plinth reminding one of Piero Manzoni’s Socle du Monde, 1961, which makes the earth a sculpture). The ceremony of dropping the block into the ocean off Taranaki reminds one of a burial at sea. . .It is interesting that the block is also a marker resting silently on the border of international waters bringing together the earth and the world in the artwork.
Problem Spaces in The Walters Prize, Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture 7, 2015