News | 18 August 2016

Commemorative sculpture Victory Medal coming to the Botanic Garden

For the past two years the commemorative sculpture Victory Medal by artist Helen Pollock has been touring museums throughout New Zealand and now it’s coming to Wellington.

Public artwork, Victory Medal - sculpture of dozens of feet lined up
Public Artwork, Victory Medal by Helen Pollock

The artwork will be at Remembrance Ridge in the Wellington Botanic Garden from September 9 until November 13 in 2016, to mark the centenary of New Zealanders’ involvement in the Battle of the Somme. 

Victory Medal is a sculpture of thirty-six pairs of feet — the number of soldiers in a small platoon — on a rusted steel medal. They’re laid out in four sections, creating a cross formation.

The vulnerability of bare feet acts as a stark reminder of the reality of war.

Victory Medal is a sculpture of sinewed footsloggers feet. They’re aligned as in a military cemetery and positioned ‘standing to’. One of these pairs of feet is cast in polished bronze, intended to symbolise the feet of a recognised hero.

Helen says, “The sculpture demonstrates that suffering and death are indiscriminate of recognition. There are no hierarchies in suffering and death.”

The feet are moulded in rough unprocessed clay to represent a cohesive fighting unit, and are visibly altered and hardened by intense fire over a period of three days.

Helen created Victory Medal as an acknowledgement of all of our heroes. 

“The men, women and children who were--and are—caught up in conflict and wars on our behalf, and who suffer from debilitating illness, injury, systemic deprivation or poverty.

“The consequences of these reach across generations. Victory Medal is about putting this matter on the table and provoking discussion and thought.”

Helen was inspired to begin sculpting Victory Medal by her father. He served in WWI and passed away when Helen was young. When she realised later in life that she knew very little about his time in the War, she was inspired to start building a connection with him through art. 

The sculpture’s installation in the Wellington Botanic Garden will be its final destination in New Zealand. It will be open during the centenary of the day the New Zealand infantry went over the top into no-man's-land on September 15, 1916.

David Sole, Manager of the Botanic Garden, says, “Remembrance Ridge in the Botanic Gardens will provide the perfect place to reflect and remember. So that Helen’s installation is easy to find, there will be signs to direct visitors.

“Remembrance Ridge is located near the Met office, but we will also put a map on the Botanic Garden website.”

Then Victory Medal will mimic the journey that young New Zealand soldiers made a century ago on the troopship Tahiti, and travel from Wellington to Europe by sea. It will cross the countryside of Northern France and Belgium, to the three battlefield towns of Arras, Messines and Le Quesnoy.

The Tahiti left Wellington on November 15 in 1916, and most on board never returned to New Zealand. Those who did forever had their lives blighted by the experience of war.

Once Victory Medal reaches Le Quesnoy in France, it will be installed there permanently to commemorate New Zealand’s liberation of Le Quesnoy.

It is fitting that Victory Medal will lie forever in France, like the approximately 7,500 New Zealanders who died there during World War I.

Go to the artist's website to see details about the installation, more images and information about international tour destinations in France and Belgium.