In selecting the location for the 11th sculpture on our Fine Line global project we were looking for a wild place with a dramatic landscape and interesting Pacific Island culture. We found these on the island of Tanna the southernmost island in Vanuatu. The site for the sculpture was the crater rim of Mt Yasur a continuously erupting Stromboli volcano near the south coast of this tropical Melanesian island.
On 19th June we arrived on Tanna via Port Vila, the capital where we were greeted by our homestay hosts Isso and Rachel who provided lodging, transport and logistics for the expedition. Isso is a person of influence in Tanna and his skills and contacts proved essential to achieving our project.
We knew that on an erupting volcano we would not be able to spend the time needed to create a significant sculpture, nor would there be any materials other than volcanic ash and lava with which to make it. So our plan was to use local renewable materials from the abundant jungle that covers most of the island.
Isso introduced us to the indigenous giant banyan trees and demonstrated their capacity to grow aerial roots from above down into the soil where they mature. Vanuatu natives manage and harvest these roots for many uses including building their homes. The banyan is actually a vine not a tree.
We learned how to cut these extremely versatile roots and strip the bark for its strong fibre. Using the roots and fibre from several banyans we constructed, over two days, a large latticework sphere.
Having enlisted some helpers from the village we loaded them and the sculpture onto Isso’s ute and drove the wild mud roads to the volcano. We had previously made a reconnaisence trip to check out the location of the best view of the eruptions, but conditions had changed and we had to go to a different spot on the rim. Our hired helpers quickly carried our sculpture up using poles on their shoulders – one of them in bare feet on the lava rock!
Fixing the sculpture to the mountain was essential because strong winds threatened to send it down into the crater.
Working with the cameras was extremely difficult with ash and fumes blowing at us. The eruptions were not predictable and exposing each shot required 30 seconds. As the sun set the eruptions became more visible and the crater glowed red with belching gas and occasional giant blasts shooting streams of red hot lava into the air.
After an hour we got better at judging the eruptions and camera exposures, as well as using some fill lighting from the full moon.
The primal experience of looking into the fiery depths of the earth was awe inspiring.
When Isso and our team retreated down the mountain we were exhilarated to find ourselves alone in the dark on the fully erupting volcano, our only company the sculpture, the moon and the stars.
There is only one more sculpture to make to complete our Fine line Project, joining the line round Earth where it began 24 years ago on Mt Ngauruhoe in New Zealand.