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Harbour Mouth Molars


Six wisdom teeth, with roots exposed, erupt from shingle gums. Limestone (Oamaru), Quartz, concrete, steel, rope, plastic tube, New Zealand ice plant Horokaka (Disphyma australe). Permanent work. 2.5 x 2 x 50m.

Kitchener Street Park, Portsmouth Drive, Otago Harbour, Dunedin.
Dunedin City Council, Art in Public Places initiative, facilitated by Otago Sculpture Trust.

Radio New Zealand

Harbour Mouth Molars are a set of six geologically-scaled wisdom teeth that have erupted from the gummy mud of the Otago Harbour. Harbour Mouth Molars stand in Kitchener Street Park at the very south end of the harbour’s mouth; appropriately, just off Portsmouth Drive. Each tooth is roughly the size of an up-ended Austin Mini car, about 2.6m tall, 1.3m wide and 1.2m thick.

Harbour Mouth Molars combines two features of Dunedin which made a strong impression on me when I lived in Dunedin as an undergraduate student at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art (1997–2000). Dunedin is home to the only Faculty and School of Dentistry in New Zealand, an institution which saved me from my constantly fluctuating impacting wisdom teeth in my final year as a student. One particular appointment has got to be my strangest double-date ever. My girlfriend at the time and I had consecutive appointments, and bore witness to the extraction of one another’s wisdom teeth. Delightful. Founded in 1907, the Faculty of Dentistry forms an integral part of the Division of Health Sciences within the University of Otago. The School serves as a teaching hospital for the people of Dunedin and the surrounding community.

Secondly, every time I see ‘The Pyramids’ near Victory beach, or ‘The Tit’ behind Portobello, I am reminded of Dunedin’s volcanic origins. Dunedin must be one of the few cities in the world that have two quarries within spitting distance of the town centre. Logan Point Quarry is located within 2km of the centre of Dunedin, situated on a series of phonolite domex deposited 13 million years ago and characteristic of the Dunedin volcanics. Blackhead Quarry is a promontory of black basalt formed about 10 million years ago during the third eruptive phase of the Dunedin volcanic complex.

I consider there to be a cultural connection between the idea of installing teeth into Otago Harbour and the volcanic history of Otago. These volcanoes have erupted from the earth in much the same way as teeth erupt through the jaw bones of screaming children. The igneous rock which spews from the volcanoes is a ‘hard’ rock in relation to surrounding geological substrates, and the enamel that encases our teeth is the hardest material formed by the human body.

Images by Max Bellamy.

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