July 2016 - Spanish urban art in South Island, New Zealand

I am writing this blog entry from New Zealand's South Island. A country that makes us, landscape lovers, dream with its contrasts, its nature and the warm character of its people. Its scarce population (4,650,000 people in 2015 of which only approximately a million live in the South Island) and its remote location makes you feel in many occasions like a pioneer explorer discovering new lands.

New Zealand offers a broad repertory of landscape related topics. In reference to both natural and urban landscape but in this instance, I will write about a surprising artistic treasure with Spanish soul located in Nelson, a small town on the top of the South Island. In spite of its size, Nelson offers various natural parks and reserves, gardens, walks and a fantastic network of cycle lanes with excellent connections within the city and with the nearby towns.

Our treasure is in fact located in one of these gardens: Miyazu Garden. This garden was a project to celebrate the sisterhood of Nelson with the Japanese city of Miyazu. In one of its esplanades, adjacent to the main road from the east, at the entry to Nelson and beside the Tasman Sea, we can find an incredible sculpture, which welcomes you into this beautiful city. With intricate and organic forms it looks like a protective shelter created by the sea itself. However, curiously, the creator of this beautiful work of art is not nature but the Basque sculptor Juanjo Novella.

Sculpture facts

The sculpture was installed on the 16th of June of 2012. It is loaded with symbolism and spiritual value for the Tangata whenua. Its unveiling was during a karakia or Maori ceremony celebrated at dawn which marked symbolically the start of the Matariki (Maori New Year).

It was named "Nau Mai Kai Toku Ahuru Mowai" which means "Welcome to my safe home, to my sheltered haven". It is six metres height and it is oriented from East to West. This creates fascinating shadows and invites you to the observation of the landscape through the sculpture. It is a sculpture that incites playfulness and makes you lose track of time while you observe the landscape through its different perspectives. It seems as if this work of art frames its environment with a multitude of different sights.

I had the luck to take part on the installation of this project. This allowed me to note the love and dedication the artist had put into the details.

The sculpture was fabricated in two parts in Spain, which were then shipped to Nelson. The material is carbon steel (S275JR). The pieces, which have a thickness of 25millimetres, were shaped with a series of three roles and there were plasma cut to create the intricate organic forms.

The welding of the pieces was completed in Nelson under the supervision of the artist who also supervised the installation of the sculpture in its current location.

As the time passed, the steel has matured in its oxidation process offering interest and contrast with its location.

Facts about the artist:

Juanjo Novella is a self-taught artist born in Basque country (Spain) in 1961. He has a long professional career, in which he has won numerous prizes and contests. His work marks milestones in the landscape in a wide number of cities worldwide. Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Ordino (Andorra), Abu Dhabi, Asan-Si (Korea), Quing Tao (China), Texas, etc. For further information, please check out the artist website where you can also see a video of the Nelson's sculpture amongst others:


Juanjo Novella comments about his work and experience in New Zealand below:

Interview with the artist:

- Juanjo, your work shows a profound inspiration in nature. What is the intention of your sculptures and in particular, what is the intention of "Nau Mai Kai Toku Ahuru Mowai"?

- In my work I always pursue to give meaning to spaces. I try to stimulate a place creating a reference or icon where the City can recognise itself. I also look for the human proximity, in my work there are no spectators, everyone is an actor, an active part of the aesthetic experience. In the case of Nau Mai Kai Toku Ahuru Mowai I appealed to the concept of shelter, very present in my themes and also I wanted to establish a symbolic link between earth and sea.

- What is your opinion with regards to art in public spaces?

- This is a broad topic, but I will try to stick to the basics and stick to my point of view: Art in public spaces is the most efficient tool for the "humanisation" of a place. It is a witness of the human presence. A healthy society has symbols which it identifies itself with as a group. A city without public art (including here good architecture) it is no more than a human storage place. I firmly believe that the health of a society passes through the sensitisation of its spaces. You could say many things but, at least from my point of view, these are the basics and fundamentals. The human beings have a necessity that goes beyond what it is explainable, beyond its landscape understood as a stage.

- What did inspire you of Nelson? How was the creative process?

- The name of the contest itself mentioned about reflecting the sea and the light in the sculpture. From there it was easy to choose for me. Later I tried to create a milestone sufficiently powerful so that it would work as a gateway reference to Nelson and so that, at the same time, it would be integrated with the park. A marine coral conforms the shelter and the shadows it produces completes the work.

- What other artists and professionals inspire you?

- There are many and they are increasing with time. So I do not elude the question I would name some, each of them for different reasons that it would take long to mention. Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza as the parents of "the Basque sculpture" and internationally, Richard Long, Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Anthony Caro... All very different from me but they have left a footprint on me at some stage of my life.

- What were the biggest challenges of this project?

- Adequacy in its most "tremendous" meaning. Being fair in the impact and that the sculpture seemed to be there all along. That the place is no longer understood without the sculpture.

- What memories do you take with you of the New Zealand landscapes? What was your impression of the culture? The place? Its people?

- What could I say; the uniqueness of the New Zealand landscapes is world-renowned. To be installing a project in this unique landscape and seeing a swan landing beside me. These are things that have been imprinted in my memory, the spectacular skies, etc. The welcoming to the Marae is another thing I would never forget as well as the warmth of the people of Nelson. I would accept any commission just to return to New Zealand.

- What other projects do you have on the horizon?

- I just finished installing my latest sculpture "STREAM" in Phoenix, Arizona and I have various projects in progress in the USA, in Louisiana, Texas and Boston. Two sculptures, the biggest I have made, will now be installed in Dallas, Texas and in Taipei, Taiwan this coming year 2017.

- Thank you very much. I hope you continue creating art around the world and if we are lucky, we hope your projects bring you back to New Zealand.

I have posted this entry in the blog for the Landscape Architecture Master of the University of Granada. In this website you can refer to the Spanish version. Please follow the link below for further information.

Paisajismo Granada, Universidad de Granada