‘My interest in celestial mapping is as a kind of ground zero of meaning-making and storytelling’, starts Zac Langdon-Pole. ‘Connecting the stars and making constellations out of them often tie to origin stories. In this sense, the journey will look at a plurality of origins, and how they do, or do not, relate,’ explains the winner of the next BMW Art Journey, the annual project which sees the Munich car company alongside Art Basel support international emerging artists.

Langdon-Pole was chosen from a shortlist of three other artists who displayed work in the ‘discoveries’ section at Art Basel Hong Kong earlier this year. He calls his BMW Art Journey installation project ‘Sutures of the Sky’. The New Zealand-born and Berlin-based artist is interested by how migratory routes of birds have been used by Polynesian pathfinders to map their way across seas. He will attempt to follow the flight path of birds – white stork and arctic tern – travelling along the earth’s axis through Central Europe – from London to The Netherlands and France, before returning to Berlin in early January. In the new year, Langdon-Pole will resume the journey making his way through the Pacific Islands of Samoa and Hawaii, ending his research in New Zealand where he says he will consolidate his work.

Passport, 2018 by Zac Langdon-Pole

‘Passport’, 2018, by Zac Langdon-Pole Photography: Nick Ash

We are meeting on his first stop in mid-December in London. Langdon-Pole has mentioned that he would like his understanding of how cultures intersect with the science of celestial mapping flow into larger existential inquiries about who we are, and our role in the world. He explains, ‘maps of the stars underpin and structure the way we live. For instance, the differences between ‘clock time’ (rational, abstract and externally ordered time) and ‘event time’ (based more on environmental happenings and relationships) will also be explored.’ Looking at how these mappings of the stars have transformed in the course of colonisation and globalisation, I hope will be a useful way of reflecting where we have come from and where we are heading in an increasingly globalised world.’

The beauty of the BMW Art Journeys initiative, established three years ago, is exactly this: the creatives are encouraged to let the experience organically mould the artwork. Last year’s winner, American artist Jamal Cyrus travelled from the US to Europe, Africa and Latin America, tracing the migration of slaves to assess their cultural impact along their journey.

In the previous year, the British artist Abigail Reynolds took on lost libraries along the Silk Road. Hers was a search for closed, destroyed or simply missing libraries with her travels documented in a book of scrap-notes, words and image that naturally tell a compelling and intimate story of war, displacement, lost languages and lost lands.

Zac Langdon-Pole installation

Installation view of Zac Langdon-Pole at ‘Ars-Viva-2018’, in Ghent Photography: Dirk Pauwels
Langdon-Pole’s journey shares elements of archaeology and ethnography. It is about delving deep into museums archives and ancient library books as well as exploring places and people now. In Europe, the focus is on the formation of star mapping systems, particularly how Europeans have imagined and subsequently mapped the southern hemisphere’s skies from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

‘The constellations many of us know from Europe became a kind of “universal” blueprint that through imperial expansion and colonisation has been transposed on top of, and obfuscated indigenous perspectives from the South Pacific,’ he says. ‘The overall course of the journey in this sense charts a meeting of worlds between Europe and the South Pacific.’

zac langdon-pole residuals artwork

‘Residuals (a)’, 2018, by Zac Langdon-Pole 2018, aluminium tool case, Greater Bird of Paradise taxidermy re-prepared with legs removed, two o-cut pieces of Muonionalusta meteorite (ne octahedrite, from Sweden), three o-cut pieces of Nantan meteorite (coarse octahedrite, from Peoples Republic of China)

This leg of the journey takes on a very different form. Langdon-Pole sounds excited about what he may discover in the Pacific Islands. He will look at indigenous knowledge of the stars and how the data has been recouped and translated in the wake of European colonisation. The artist offers this in explanation: ‘Whereas the European research will view how cultures have been represented through collections and museums, in the islands I will be engaging directly with people, with the aim of forming more collaborative connections.’ In Hawaii and the Marshall Islands, he has arranged meetings with a range of experts – from academics to sailors to local artists.

Langdon-Pole is quick to acknowledge his skills are as an artist, not an archaeologist or ethnographer. ‘There is always a particular emphasis for me on exactly how material and information are woven together to make an artwork,’ he says of how he sees the body of research developing. ‘I will be documenting as much as I can through writing, photography and filming, field recordings and interviews with people within each location during my travels.’

Langdon-Pole expects there to be a great deal of material to process and continue to use after this project is finished. ‘While I am currently working toward a presentation in Art Basel next year as a specific outcome of the BMW Journey, I imagine that this experience, with the research undertaken and the connections made, will also inform my work over a much greater timeframe to come.’ §