Sculptor says ‘art work’ exported to China looks like giant log

A prominent Northland sculptor says a swamp kauri log exported as a sculpture lacks the crucial qualities of a genuine artwork.

MPI decided the massive log sold to China by Kaihu’s Nelson Parker in January met the definition of art and its export was lawful.

The Supreme Court said last year that for a log to be defined as a finished sculpture it would need to have lost its identity as a log.

Sculptor Chris Carey who’s judged many art competitions, says the log was still very log-like and the carvings on it resembled primitive cave drawings.

“It had an ad hoc approach to the work and probably little in the way of craftsmanship demonstrated. From my point of view, looking at the hieroglyphics on the side I thought someone was having a (laugh) pulling someone’s leg.”

The carvings on the log include the words “New Zealand” and depict a tiki, a fern and what appears to be a bird.

The Kaihu carvers had also poured resin, pāua shell and kauri leaves into a fissure in the log.

Chris Carey said MPI should consult arts professionals, not forestry staff, if it needed to define art.

MPI said it did consult the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, but that the Ministry said it never actually saw the log and did not comment on it specifically.

Northland conservationists who took MPI to the Supreme Court last year and won their case, say the Ministry is still flouting the Forests Act, which aims to prevent the export of native timber in a raw or dressed form, but allows the export of finished objects.

The group is now trying to raise funds to go to the High Court and ask for a judicial review of MPI’s definition of the log, as a sculpture and its subsequent sale.