Henderson artists Bernie Harfleet and Turtle Sarten make visible the things we often find uncomfortable to talk about. Urgent social issues all around us: like family harm, mental health and poverty.
These self-described creators of 'Community Activated Art Action' do remarkable things. Since 2002 Bernie and Turtle have been staging installations that involve public participation to raise awareness and encourage action.
The art is often big in both heart and numbers. In 2016 the pair planted 10,000 white toy windmills in the ground, representing the five percent of New Zealand adults who’d experienced psychological distress in the previous month. In 2014, they strung 6000 lunchboxes from trees as part of their Feed the Kids Too project, which later saw 7500 low decile students gifted lunch boxes and some lunch.
Bernie and Turtle started Give a Kid a Blanket in 2015, after hearing a Coroner’s report that said a little girl’s death was in part due to damp and cold living conditions. Every winter the pair collected blankets, pyjamas and other warm items, which are then given out through social workers, nurses, the police, refuges and community workers. They have gifted over 100,000 items and its been a registered charity since 2019 and now operates year round. For Sarten and Harfleet, Give a Kid a Blanket is also an artwork.
The duo’s latest work at NZ Sculpture On Shore at Operetu Fort Takapuna 4th to the 19th of November. Staged in the old fort’s engine room and connecting tunnels, installation 'And Then They Kissed Me' is a metaphor for the experience of women fleeing domestic violence and finding refuge.
Mirrors and digits in the work reference several things: the number of times women try before successfully leaving abusive relationships, the sobering statistics related to their death and injury, and the awarding of the New Zealand bravery medal. Visitors will be invited to write messages of hope and encouragement to those who have escaped and are rebuilding their lives.
Billed as the largest outdoor art exhibition in the country, NZ Sculpture OnShore has returned after a five-year hiatus, with a record 130 artworks from more than 100 artists at its spectacular North Shore clifftop site. All proceeds go to the Women's Refuge.
Bernie Harfleet caught up with Culture 101’s Mark Amery.