5 January 2024

These tall tails tell a story of Shellharbour

| Dione David
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Aerial picture of whale tail sculpture Long Distance at the Lake Illawarra Art Trail

Long Distance is part of the Lake Illawarra Art Trail. Photo: Carla Gottgens.

It’s quite fitting that Carla Gottgens’ sculpture travelled all the way from the artist’s Melbourne studio to its final resting place at Shellharbour’s Bardsley Park.

Against the backdrop of North Beach, the two enormous whale tails breaching the surface are called Long Distance. They are an ode to the humpback’s annual migration of up to 10,000 km, which takes the majestic creatures quite prominently past Shellharbour’s coast.

The sculpture’s journey of some 800 km by road might seem slightly less impressive, but a colourful, two-part metal sculpture reaching heights of up to four metres, travelling openly on the freeway, is still quite the spectacle.

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“The stretch of the freeway the truck would normally take was closed at the time that the transporter was moving the sculpture, so the driver ended up on Bulli Pass,” Carla said.

“He said he had to take up the whole two lanes to navigate the sharper turns and even had to reverse a few times on the hairpin.

“People are lovely and patient, though, especially when they see something like that… As the artist though, sometimes I think it’s best not to think about and not to be there.”

Carla Gottgens at her studio

Carla Gottgens was also commissioned to complete a mural at Stocklands Shellharbour. Photo: Deb Umbaugh Ierano.

Carla, a multidisciplinary artist with roots in photography, won the commission as part of a national call out for Shellharbour City Council’s Lake Illawarra Art Trail.

The brief was to create art that responded both to the area and the local community.

“There’s been a shift in the art world with regard to public artworks that I love,” Carla said.

“Thirty or so years ago there was a preference for public artworks by famous artists, and the prestige of a big name was enough.

“Now, artists can no longer stay in their comfort zone and create something within their repertoire. More and more they’re being asked to respond to the site and create something that actually means something to that local community.

“I can’t speak for other artists but if it’s a national call-out, and you’re not a local artist, that requires research, and to me that’s the most exciting part of putting forward a design concept.

“Generally my concept will go through two or three variations before I get that lightbulb moment that leads to the final concept.”

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From the outset, whale tails as a response to a suburb so well known as a hotspot for whale migration sightings might seem a bit literal, but Carla’s execution is highly original.

One tail reaches skyward while the other bends, representing whales at play. Each tail has a faceted design, displaying panels of Carla’s drone photographs of different oceans the humpback whale migrates through, illustrations and geometric depictions of sea swells and water movement.

The work required consultation with a CAD (computer aided design) specialist, structural engineer, fabricator, paint specialist, printer, water jet cutting expert and a welder to pull off.

Whale tail sculpture with two small children under.

Long Distance is designed to encourage interaction and discovery. Photo: Carla Gottgens.

Carla hopes the resulting composition and facets encourage interaction, investigation, discovery, play and consideration of the subjects.

“I hope people take their time to explore the panels and that it inspires thought about how far the animals actually travel – hence the name Long Distance,” she said.

Long Distance is one of multiple sculptures that explore and respond to local history, the Lake, Aboriginal heritage, flora and fauna as part of the Lake Illawarra Art Trail. Located at Reddall Reserve, Lake Illawarra, the trail is designed to be walked or cycled.

For more information visit Shellharbour City Council or download the Tread Shellharbour App.

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