All posts in public art

Five Eyes Painting in Westminster Papers Article

Article link: Visibility, Power and Citizen Intervention: The Five Eyes and New Zealand’s Southern Cross Cable

Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture Article

Article link: Visibility, Power and Citizen Intervention: The Five Eyes and New Zealand’s Southern Cross Cable

Downfall Street Poster Project, 2013

The Social Life of a Guerilla Artwork: Five Eyes Network Outpost

In this post, I’m going to document some of the extended life my guerilla-style Five Eyes Network artwork has had in social media since being created.

Guerilla Art Strike: December 2013

Southern Cross cable landing point artwork

The Five Eyes Network Outpost artwork was created in late 2013, in the midst of the vigorous worldwide debate surrounding mass surveillance conducted by spy agencies, revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In New Zealand, the controversial GCSB Amendment Bill to expand GCSB intelligence agency powers had generated heated public debate. New Zealand is one of the five countries in the Five Eyes intelligence agency alliance.

Snowden had revealed that the NSA routinely tapped enormous amounts of data from fibre optic cables carrying internet traffic around the world. It had also been revealed by Wikileaks in 2010 that, according to a classified document, the Southern Cross undersea cable landing point in Auckland had been labelled “critical infrastructure and a key resource” by the United States government.

In early December, I anonymously installed the guerilla-style artwork around the large telephone pole on Takapuna Beach that marks the landing point of the Southern Cross Cable, which carries most of New Zealand’s internet data to and from the United States and Australia.

A media release was issued, including a photograph of the installed work. A Scoop web page (above image) carrying the release, and social media images of the work, were shared a reasonable amount in social media in the following few days. The physical work was seen by hundreds on popular Takapuna beach during this early-summer week.

Above tweet: Seeby Woodhouse is the founder of @Orcon, founder and CEO of @VoyagerInternet, and a was high profile digital privacy activist during the public debate surrounding the GCSB Amendment Bill.

After a week, to my surprise the physical work (an acrylic painting on unstretched canvas) was still there. I took it down. I was not expecting to be able to keep it, but was glad to be able to.

The Day We Fight Back: February 2014

On February 11, 2014, to coincide with the international online protest ‘The Day We Fight Back’ against mass surveillance, I shared images in social media of a new but similar follow-up painting on stretched canvas, Five Eyes Network, as well as images of the previous outdoor work. I posted images on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, and wrote an accompanying blog post: Five Eyes Network Painting And The Day We Fight Back.

Five Eyes Network painting

On the day, thousands of websites around the world, including Reddit, Mozilla and Wikipedia took part in the online protest.

This time the online sharing of the work took off to a greater degree, and continued for days as the public debate continued in New Zealand. As a high profile example, Kim Dotcom (with over 360,000 Twitter followers) tweeted a link to the work to emphasise his assertion that the Southern Cross Internet Cable was indeed being tapped for mass surveillance purposes by the Five Eyes alliance.

The result was that many thousands more people saw the work in social media, and were sent to the artwork’s page on my art site. By this stage, many more people had seen the work than if it had been in a public gallery in New Zealand, and it had been dropped into the public debate twice.

NZ Election Campaign and the Southern Cross Cable: September 2014

In September 2014, leading up to the general election in New Zealand, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald visited New Zealand to present what Edward Snowden’s documents had revealed about the existence of mass surveillance on New Zealanders.

Greenwald wrote a series of articles detailing how the New Zealand government had not been truthful with the public about mass surveillance, and that a plan to tap the Southern Cross Internet Cable had begun to be implemented.

Just a few days before the election, Kim Dotcom, together with his new Internet MANA political party alliance, hosted a high profile media event called The Moment of Truth, showcasing the new revelations. At the event Greenwald showcased the documents, and Snowden appeared via video link from asylum in Russia, along with Julian Assange from asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Snowden maintained that he knew for a fact that mass surveillance was being conducted on New Zealanders, as he himself had worked with relevant data records while working with the NSA.

Snowden’s previously top secret documents demonstrated that the GCSB, with NSA cooperation, had implemented Phase I of the mass surveillance program code-named “Speargun” at some point in 2012 or early 2013 – just months before my Five Eyes Network Outpost work was installed. “Speargun” involved the covert installation of “cable access” equipment, which appeared to refer to “surveillance of the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable,” Greenwald wrote. He added, “This cable carries the vast majority of internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and mass collection from it would mark the greatest expansion of GCSB spying activities in decades.”

On the day Greenwald’s was story was published, I again tweeted an image (above tweet) of my previous Five Eyes Network Outpost work, with #nzpol (New Zealand politics) and #art hashtags, inserting the tweet directly into the considerable political conversation happening on Twitter at the time. The image was retweeted and commented on many times during that day, and spread through social media to thousands more people, in the context of an important public debate.

It remains to be seen whether or not this work has any online social life left in it, but I’m amazed at how far it has travelled so far, from its initial guerilla-installation on a public beach in Auckland just over 9 months ago.

Although it’s had a decent public life already, I would eventually like to show the follow-up painting, Five Eyes Network, in a physical art gallery! A new series of paintings I’m working on now also relates to this work.

Review Of My Work In The Fringe

Artist of the Month - John Johnston

I’m happy to have had the following article written about my work for the September issue of local magazine, The Fringe. Thanks to Naomi McCleary for her interest in the work.

The Fringe, September 2013

Artist of the Month – John Johnston

John Johnston came to my attention as one of three Titirangi-based finalists in the inaugural Parkin Drawing Award, won by another Titirangi resident, Monique Jansen. The generous prize of $20,000 certainly brings focus to what judge Heather Galbraith describes as ‘one of our most ancient tools of communication, yet still incredibly relevant.’ The award attracted 800 submissions.

John Johnston creates work of mesmerising textural depth. His work for the Parkin Award, Signature Field 1, also has a fabric-like quality and a visit to his website ( reveals wonderfully strong graphic images with delicate detailing. I particularly like his ‘Requiem for Hotere’ and works with more than a passing nod to McCahon’s waterfalls.

John has made a career as a digital designer, art director and social media consultant and is the founder of a popular sustainability-oriented blog, After his early years in Christchurch where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (First Class Honours), he went on to complete a Master of Visual Arts (University of Sydney). In 2011 he returned from Australia and big city life to Titirangi, chosen for its long and strong legacy of artists and its proximity to bush and beach. With this move has come a return to making and exhibiting art and plans to continue this for the rest of his life.

Currently he is the generator of a ‘poster project‘ in which large paste-up images of one of his paintings, Downfall, based on McCahon’s waterfalls, are appearing on walls and billboards in deconstructed and reassembled collages. This is guerilla art at its best; temporary, intriguing, leaving no trace. For John, this project takes his work outside the gallery scene and into a non-arts domain. Further ideas to work in public space are emerging.

John Johnston is but one of a new generation of artists drawn to Titirangi. For the early artists who made their homes in these hills, it was often an escape from a judgmental and unrelenting society. Today’s artists come for its physical beauty and sustaining arts tradition and culture.

Naomi McCleary