Flight Trainer for Albatross by Greer Twiss was donated to the city by the Auckland Sculpture Trust in 2004. This fine work was installed, for some unknown reason, in a windy, forlorn spot at Princes Wharf beside Quay Street, until it was taken down a decade or so later so the area could be developed.
The sculpture had always seemed out of place, surrounded by buildings, its poetry and ambiguity lost in the busy-ness of downtown. Not long after it was installed, it suffered the indignity of being backed into by a truck. Late one night, Twiss graffitied the damaged parts with pink spray paint to highlight “an irresponsible city council”. (The New Zealand Herald: “Sculptor gives council the bird over damaged work”.)
Twiss’s original idea involved a lightweight steel structure supporting – or possibly constraining – four albatross with delicate ties across their wings. He had been interested in the birds for a while: their symbolism, their size, and conservation efforts to save the endangered species at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula, where they are monitored daily. “I thought, this is like bringing your car in for a service every year,” says Twiss. “I thought maybe this is a good chance to do the albatross flying, but not flying – we’ll bring it in for servicing and we’re going to get it ready for flying again.”
Around the same time, Twiss read about birds from down south that had been brought up north and re-housed in the Kaimai Ranges: within a week, they’d all returned south. “Here was a bird we were trying to conserve and look after and free, but to get to that point we make a machine, tie it up and get it all set and in doing that we’re actually hindering it sometimes.”
In that first version, engineering was the winner. The framework came out heavier than Twiss had specfied, with thick steel beams, some of which were added as the work was installed. The work had power, but it lost some of its poetry.
Now, after several years of work by Twiss, the Auckland Council’s public art team and designer John O’Sullivan, Flight Trainer has a new home and frame – though the birds are original. It sits on Victoria Wharf in Devonport, close by the Waitematā Harbour, with seagulls, fisherpeople and ferries coming in and out.
The structure seems ad-hoc, not quite holding together, as if hastily assembled, thrown up in a frantic effort to support the birds. It doesn’t feel deliberate: it’s an assemblage of steel poles.
Twiss is delighted. “It’s really thick stainless,” he says of the deceptive construction, its poles narrow in diameter but wide in gauge, “except one at the end which is lighter. The wind gets into it and it vibrates. I like it. If you lie back on it, oh, you get a good massage.”
Flight Trainer for Albatross
Devonport Wharf, Devonport, Tamaki Mākaurau Auckland