When Massey University closed down its Engineering School in Wellington, it disposed of 70 litres of supposed ‘whale oil’, which had been used in quenching tanks. New owner Maddie Leach thought it should be returned to the sea.
The search for the authenticity of the ‘whale oil’, the Used Oil Product Stewardship Scheme run by the Holcim cement plant in Westport and a little red book Letters from New Plymouth 1843
are among the leads that ignited Leach’s new off-site project If you find the good oil let us know
In January, readers of ‘Letters to the Editor’ in the Taranaki Daily News
were introduced to a curious narrative, composed by multiple authors and appearing sporadically over some weeks. Full of tangents, speculations and kernels of factual information about industry, oil, cement and the sea, one letter writer -
Michael Edwards from Tasmania - wryly noted:
“A persistent dilemma for me has been the ‘infectious belief’ perpetuated by the bogus whale oil. Although tenable for only two and a half pages of your initial correspondence, its potency has endured across your account…With the accompanying parade of characters, poignant details, accomplices and even a potential villain (the heartless Harbour Master) the account is near fit for the stage."
In early February observant passersby would have noticed the sudden appearance of Leach’s title If you find the good oil let us know
painted across the top of the Govett-Brewster’s façade. In the context of this ‘oil and gas town’, and as the gallery prepares for a lengthy closure, the phrase is at once disarmingly direct and complexly nuanced.
As Michael Edward’s suspects, the ‘third act’ in this elusive project is yet to come. Another writer, Jem Noble, provides us with some possibilities:
“I sit and imagine a concrete monolith aboard a ship. I imagine it standing upright, like a monument, on the very edge of the deck, port side, before tilting about its outward-facing bottom edge and falling in an impossibly slow arc, crashing the swell to be enveloped by the depths. I imagine its descent, turning slightly on its silent course straight down. I imagine a muted thud of concrete on the sea floor as the object finds a place of rest. I wonder what will actually follow from now until an event resembling that one, to condition that resemblance, if, indeed, one should transpire.”
Curated by Mercedes Vicente
A new publication designed by Warren Olds for If you find the good oil let us know
will be available in July.
Twelve out of a series of fourteen letters, and an Editorial, were printed in the Taranaki Daily News in the early months of 2013:Maddie Leach (09.01.13)
Sandy Gibbs (12.01.13)
Peter Brunt (16.01.13)
Bill Cashman (18.01.13)
Mercedes Vicente (19.01.13)
Christina Barton (23.01.13)
Melanie Oliver (24.01.13)
Jon Bywater (28.01.13)
Michael Edwards (30.01.13)
Abby Cunnane (02.02.13)Editorial by Rob Mitchell (07.02.13)
Maddie Leach (16.02.13)
Maddie Leach (20.02.13)
Jem Noble (unpublished)
David Cross (unpublished)
Eight letters were also written by the following local readers of the newspaper:
Lila Smith (2), Bob Thompson, Cam Murray, Antonia O'Mahony, Nev Robinson, Peter MCCormack and Morris West.Maddie Leach
Maddie Leach’s practice seeks viable ways of making art works in order to interpret and respond to unique ‘place-determined’ content and enacts a process of establishing specific relationships between form, materials, locations, histories, events, environments, individuals and communities. She often asserts a kind of transient, perhaps fugitive status to an art work.
Leach is currently Senior Lecturer in Fine Arts at Massey University College of Creative Arts in Wellington and was 2011-2012 Govett-Brewster New Zealand Artist in Residence, in partnership with the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) and Creative New Zealand.
This project has support from Holcim New Zealand Ltd, Taranaki Daily News and Swire Pacific Offshore New Zealand Ltd