Peter Wegner

Terra Firma Incognita

15 December 2007 - 6 July 2008

Peter Wegner’s Terra Firma Incognita was produced as one of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Visiting Artist Projects for 2007, but its inspiration goes much farther back.

In the late 1980s Wegner travelled from the United States to the South Island of New Zealand and was struck by an unexpected parallel between here and there. As island-dwellers, New Zealanders often remarked on their sense of distance from the larger world, and this echoed how Wegner himself had felt while growing up in land-locked South Dakota. Now, almost twenty years later, Wegner has explored a new notion of place where everyone seems to live, as in the words of poet Bill Manhire, ‘at the edge of the universe’.

Wegner has long been fascinated by maps and their paradoxical accuracy and unreliability. A map, he says, ‘puts some things in and leaves some things out. It includes hundreds of aesthetic decisions that we don’t see because we’re taught to look through the map to see the territory’. And then there’s the colour and material presence of a map, which Wegner describes as ‘a wonderful kind of workaday abstraction. A whole city represented as a dot.’

Wegner’s fascinating island-and-ocean-in-flux is made up of over two thousand circles, each an enlarged detail from a relief map that presents the surface of the world in three dimensions. As he writes:

‘In this new kind of map, the countries and continents of the world have been atomised, isolated and radically reconfigured. A piece of Madagascar now abuts a section of Texas as well as a stretch of New Zealand beach, an expanse of sub-Saharan desert and foothills of the Italian Alps...

At the same time, Terra Firma Incognita contains moments of attenuated clarity: a dot next to a word you recognise as the name of a city you’ve been to. A shadow suggesting a mountain range you hiked. The cyan-ink-on-paper signifying “ocean” that reminds you of a swim you once took.’

But mostly this map depicts life as we know it, all error and omission. Whether these fragments of map are drifting closer together or farther apart is impossible to say. They could be the elements of an implosion, or a big bang. Terra Firm Incognita could be an assertion of the power of the imagination to cross enormous distances with ease. Or equally, it may offer a hopeful social vision – the world’s divided political territories redrawn and reunited.

Either way, Wegner’s many fragments appear to have been caught in an indeterminate moment of transition, on their way from something charted and known to something else entirely: terra firma incognita.

With special thanks to Genevieve Devitt Day, Bill Griffin and Griffin LA. For further information on Peter Wegner, visit and 

The Visiting Artists Project is supported by Creative New Zealand.

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