Creative people build creative sets

I recently started working here at DigitalNZ, and quickly discovered my love of set-making. The process is often strange, intuitive and surprising.

Image: Carver, Robert William Ind 1838-1907 :Bell's kitchen garden 1892. Ref: A-164-020. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

DigitalNZ has over 25 million pieces of digital content, so you never quite know what you are going to turn up. Sometimes I think of it like digging for potatoes, you turn over the earth (click, ‘Go’ in this case) and a little gem appears (or not). The infinite scroll we added to search results earlier this year also encourages a relentless pursuit of the next items.

One of the many great things about DigitalNZ sets is their flexibility. They are a useful research and family history tool, but they are also responsive to creative and tangential thinking. To me, some sets function like Venn diagrams. The digital objects they contain may not overtly relate to each other, but they overlap in associative ways.

548px Edwards Venn Five
Image: Edwards Venn Five, Wikimedia Commons, Author: Interiot.

With this in mind, I thought I would start a new series called ‘Creative people build creative sets’. Every couple of weeks I will invite a well known New Zealander of creative persuasion to build a set. The brief is deliberately open; the set might be about a research subject, a solitary word, a place, or a memory—it is entirely up to each set-maker.

Poet and artist Gregory O’Brien starts the series with his new set about the Kermadec Islands:


O’Brien recently traveled to the Kermadecs with a collection of other writers and artists. The trip was organised by the Pew Environment Group who are advocating for the area to be designated as a marine reserve, and an exhibition of the art which resulted from this trip has been touring New Zealand and further afield.

Since this trip, the Kermadecs have loomed large in O’Brien’s thoughts and work, and this set brings together some surreal and fascinating images associated with the Kermadecs, and the main island in the group, Raoul. As O’Brien writes:

“While Raoul is visited by considerably fewer people than the number who make it to the top of Mount Everest, the Kermadecs are a relevant and powerful part of Aotearoa/New Zealand our stepping stone to the Pacific Islands, rich in Polynesian as well as European history and mythology, a pristine oceanic environment and one of the very few territories of New Zealand that come close to being 100% Pure.”

It seems appropriate to start the series with a set about such a fluid and enigmatic site, as, with such an open brief, I’m not entirely sure what the results of the series will be. I am sure though, that they will be intriguing and illustrative of the creative potential of set-making at DigitalNZ. Stay tuned via our Twitter and Facebook for updates every couple of weeks or so.