New Zealand born Berlin based artist Zac Langdon-Pole is the 7th recipient of the BMW Art Journey.
Starting out in Central Europe and then weaving through the Pacific Islands, his journey traced how people have been mapping the stars for millennia. Structured in part by the flight-paths of migratory birds, his research encompassed ideas of time, navigation and migration.

When I first proposed to undertake these travels, I was aware of how the constellations known in the so-called ‘West’ had, through colonization, become a kind of universal blueprint for identifying the stars. I wanted to unravel this universalising tendency by tracing the historical gaps and relations between European maps of the stars and indigenous perspectives from the Pacific. While cartography of the Earth’s surface can predicate politics of territory, resources and conquest, maps of the stars entail the structuring of time, navigation and the making of meaning through narration.

The night sky is, after all, constituted by countless points of information – information that reaches our eyes both in the form of light and its absence. Yet each point of light is travelling from a vastly different distance. So when you look upon a night-sky of stars, you are looking at a multitude of different time-scales simultaneously. How those disparate points of information get assembled into a totality is akin, to me, to how we inscribe information into stories and stories into history, and how, through repeated telling, a given history can gain the weight of truth. In this way, the research I’ve undertaken on these travels has sought to understand how people have inscribed the skies, and in turn, how these inscriptions suture histories of people and place.

Zac Langdon-Pole


25.01.2019 - Mauna Kea
It’s two a.m. when the alarm goes off to get our stuff together and head to the meeting point for a sunrise tour of Mauna Kea’s summit. Hovering over 4,000m above sea level, Mauna Kea, or Mauna o Wākea, is the tallest mountain in the Pacific. And if you count its height from the ocean floor, it is by far the tallest mountain in the world, measuring over ten kilometres from base to peak. The drive up the steadily inclining volcano takes two hours. We cross multiple climate and altitude zones. Before we enter the regional park of the volcano, whose access is owed to indigenous Hawaiians, a pule (Hawaiian prayer) is said to honour the significance of this sacred place.

With its peak high above the clouds, Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world to observe the stars. Multiple astronomical observatories have been built upon it. Controversy in recent years has centred upon the development of astronomical observatories, in particular the plans (at this point halted) to build the ‘Thirty Meter Telescope’ at the expense of its environment and cultural significance. Mauna Kea is known to indigenous Hawaiians as Mauna o Wākea. In their story of creation, Wākea is the sky father and partner to Papahanaumoku, the earth mother, who gave birth to the islands. The island of Hawai’i, from which Mauna Kea emerges, is their eldest child. Mauna Kea is that child’s piko, or navel, the connection point between the earth mother and sky father.

As the sun rises, its light projects the massive shadow of Mauna Kea itself onto the pink haze of the western horizon. Like a mirage, I mistake it for a giant mountain rising out of the ocean in the distance. This is a place of phenomenal power. In writing this, I extend my gratitude here directly to native Hawaiians for the privilege of visiting their sacred mountain. As a pākehā New Zealander I recognise the importance and urgency of indigenous rights across the globe, and I stand in solidarity in the struggle to protect Mauna Kea. Progress can only begin with addressing the wrongs of the past and learning about how those wrongs persist in the present. To do that, we must listen with care and put people and their environment first. Me ke aloha piha, mahalo.