Conference of Stones

In 2010, the USA-based Pew Environment Group initiated a visionary project to protect and create an ocean sanctuary around one of the most pristine ocean reserves on the planet. The Kermadec Islands occupy an area of approximately 620,000 square kilometers in the South Pacific just north of New Zealand and under the guardianship of New Zealand, and the Kermadec Trench, one of the earth's deepest ocean trenches, reaches 10,047 meters, or 32,963 feet, in depth.

In addition to lobbying and negotiating with New Zealand Government agencies, the Pew Group invited nine artists to travel through the Kermadec area on a New Zealand Naval vessel. I was lucky enough to be included along with Gregory O’Brien, Bruce Foster, Robin White, John Pule, Jason O’Hara, Elizabeth Thompson, John Reynolds and Australian artist Fiona Hall. The voyage included a stop-over on Raoul Island, a Kermadec Island manned to measure earthquakes and volcanic activity. From the experience we were expected to create an exhibition to raise public consciousness and support for the area.

On May 10, 2011 we left Auckland harbor as non-naval personnel aboard the HMNZS Otago, an off-shore patrol vessel in the Royal New Zealand Navy, bound for the Kermadecs and Tonga Tapu.

On deck through the Kermadecs, I felt that there’s something deeply moving and instinctive in a deep-essence kind of way about the action of an ocean when you’re right there in the immensely deep middle of it. It triggers, at one and the same time, a deep-water sense of awe and an electric thrill for the pulsing current of the intelligence we’re a part of. And arriving on the pohutukawa-canopied Raoul Island was all the more impressive for experiencing and intuiting such raw ocean forces that pound and sculpt its tangled shoreline.



Phil Dadson is a video and sound artist based in Auckland, New Zealand.

The scope of his work includes building and performing with experimental musical instruments, sound sculptures, digital media, music compositions, graphic scores and drawings.

To follow Phil Dadson’s trip to Chile for the Kermedec exhibition in Santiago, go here




philonRaoul1200Phil Dadson on Raoul Island

The sun sets earlier through May. After dusk on HMNZS Otago, all hands were confined below deck for safety reasons. With no portholes to the outside world the experience was submarine. Rather than being confined to a lounge or bunk, I wandered the labyrinthine corridors in endless loops that brought me back to where I began. I discovered a hatch that took me directly out on deck, a thick steel door sheltered by a grey steel porch, cold and wet with spray. Standing within it, all the sounds of the engine and the surging sea were amplified as if my ears were expanded to form an acoustic shell within which all the frequencies of the ocean became audible. There was no moon, but the night sky sparkled with light reflected from the fluorescence-frilled chop of the ocean. I sang to the sea and the sea sang to me, wave upon wave of surging swell infused with the droning throb of engines dark and low, the rising and falling of the ocean’s immensity up through my feet into the coil of my inner ear, a curtain of blackness up and down on galaxies of light.

I created two works in support of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Following our return, I produced Pax for the first exhibition held at Tauranga Art Gallery in Tauranga, a city on the north island of New Zealand’s east coast in direct line with the Kermadec trench.

Pax (2011), a 2-in-1 screen preview version of a two-channel video/audio installation, shows two ship porthole views, stern and prow, of remote ocean and volcanic island ecology in the Kermadecs, a meeting point of deep underwater trenches and Pacific plates with some 30 submerged volcanoes, many active, stretching from White Island off the Whakatane coast of New Zealand up through the Kermadec and Tonga trenches to the active island of Raoul and up to the Kingdom of Tonga. Pax shows a pristine region of ocean that this and other works in the Kermadec exhibition promote as an ocean sanctuary to be protected in perpetuity for future generations.

Video by Phil Dadson, devised for the Kermadec exhibition, supported by PEW Charitable Trust. Video available through Vimeo.

Later, during the summer of 2012/13, I requested fellow artist and camera operator Bruce Foster to assist me in creating a film titled Conference of Stones—The Fate of Things to Come, a three screen, synchronised video/audio work, produced specifically for a showing of the Kermadec exhibition Lines in the Ocean at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile, mounted in support of the Kermadec and Rapanui (Easter Island) ocean sanctuary initiatives.


Conference of Stones – The Fate of Things to Come (2013) available through Vimeo. Song/stones performed by Phil Dadson. Camera by Bruce Foster. Sound recorded by John Kim. Produced with the support of Pew Charitable Trust, CNZ Arts Council of New Zealand, Colab Creative Technologies. Video by Phil Dadson.

No ordinary stones these. And no better community to discuss the fate of things to come!

In late 2015, the New Zealand Government finally approved the sanctuary and in April 2016 it was fully ratified, a process that took five years of continuous lobbying and negotiation with the consistent background support of the Kermadec exhibition, an extensive body of work that continues to be toured throughout New Zealand and to Pacific venues in Tonga (2012), Chile ((2013) and New Caledonia (2014).

The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is one of the world’s largest and most significant fully-protected areas, fully twice the size of New Zealand's landmass, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life.

The Kermadec region is home to: six million seabirds of 39 different species, ranging from tiny storm petrels to large wandering albatrosses; over 150 species of fish (thirty-two percent of all the fish species known in New Zealand are from the Kermadec area; up to 35 species of dolphin and whale that migrate through the area; more than 250 species of corals and tiny animals called bryozoans that have been found in the region.

Three of the world's seven sea turtle species are found in the Kermadec area (hawksbill, leatherback and green turtles). They are all endangered or critically endangered. 

And it's likely that future studies will reveal even more species, new or rare, that call this place home.

The Kermadec Trench contains more than 30 submarine volcanoes (the world's longest chain of underwater volcanoes). It is the second deepest ocean trench in the world. It is deeper than Mount Everest is tall.

As pointed out in a 2015 New Zealand government statement, by protecting 620,000 square kilometres the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary will become the world's largest no-take marine reserve. It will be a positive inspiration to other nations to implement greater marine protection measures. Further, activating this sanctuary will see almost 15% of worldwide waters protected, exceeding our 10% marine reserves target and our current level of 0.41%.

Phil Dadson