Christina Barton

Christina Barton is a writer, curator, editor, and art historian. She has held positions at Auckland Art Gallery (1987–1992) and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (1992–1994) and as Senior Lecturer in Art History at Victoria University of Wellington (1995–2007). Director of the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington since 2007, she is highly respected for her work on the history of post-object art in New Zealand.

Fiona Connor

Fiona Connor is an artist who works in sculptural terms to rethink environments anew. She expands on the discussion of contemporary art by working directly, often very literally, with its contexts to bring art into conversation with pressing matters of ecological, social, and economic concern. Connor completed her MFA at California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California. She was a 2010 finalist for the Walters Prize, New Zealand. She lives in Los Angeles.

Micah Sherman

Micah Sherman is an electrical engineer, who specialises in the installation of Solar PV systems. When I approached him five years ago he was working for Right House, an alternative energy provider that was based in Wellington. Still based in Wellington Sherman now works for Infratec renewables on the installation of Solar PV systems in the more remote places of the Pacific and the Torres Strait Islands. It had always been his goal to work in these regions, as solar panels make a lot more sense than the diesel generators that are commonly used.

Andrew Wilks

Andrew Wilks was born in Levin and came to Wellington to study Architecture and Design at Victoria University, where he graduated specialising in building sciences. After graduating he was hired by his former lecturer Rob Bishop at Energy Solutions and worked there between 2002–2006. At Energy Solutions, Wilks was part of the team that completed the energy audit of the Adam Art Gallery, which was used to formulate my letter for ‘The Future is Unwritten’. In 2006 he became the Environmental Manager at Victoria University, and as a Campus Services Employee manages the environmental footprint of the university. In 2010 Wilks spent a year in Vancouver doing independent study and working part–time in the sustainability office at the University of British Colombia.

Ralph Chapman

Ralph Chapman is Associate Professor and Director of Environmental Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and codirector of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities. He has worked on climate change issues for thirty years and since working on climate change economics at the HM Treasury in Whitehall, London, in 1988. His work now focuses on the actions that cities can take in transport, urban development, housing, and energy to reduce carbon emissions. He has degrees in engineering, public policy, and economics. Chapman has worked at the Beehive (NZ Parliament Buildings), NZ Ministry for the Environment, NZ Treasury, and with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He has also negotiated for New Zealand on climate change policy at the United Nations.

Website published by:
Adam Art Gallery
Victoria University of Wellington
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

Curator: Laura Preston
Website: Neil Doshi
Copyediting and proofreading:
Amy Howden-Champan and Sriwhana Spong

Letter to an Unwritten Future
July 10, 2009
Adam Art Gallery
Victoria University of Wellington
Gate 3, Kelburn Parade

PO Box 600
New Zealand

Dear Adam Art Gallery,

As a component of my work for the exhibition ‘The Future is Unwritten’, I hope to instigate permanent changes to make the gallery as energy efficient as possible and move it towards an environmentally conscious operation. The realisation of these ideas depends entirely on the gallery’s commitment to change and collaboration with Facilities Management, Victoria University of Wellington. It would be great to get your support. Below I have summarised the gallery’s energy consumption and have made clear recommendations as to how you may reduce these levels.1


Currently the Adam Art Gallery is extremely energy consumptive. 86% of its energy balance is consumed by the air conditioning plant (HVAC) that controls temperature and humidity. The plant is monitored by Facilities Management offsite and in a different building. This system was set up to stabilise conditions for the preservation of sensitive artworks, but as this is not always a requirement it is running inefficiently. It has been suggested that the system could be switched off for short periods at night or in the summer without endangering conservation standards, however this needs further experimentation. 2 3 4


  • Establish clear lines of communication with Andrew Wilks and Facilities Management who are currently responsible for controlling the HVAC plant.

  • Request that Glyn Benson from Set Point Solutions install and develop a programme within the gallery, which would enable the gallery to directly control the HVAC. This would include different settings, e.g., ‘Off’, ‘Only on during the day’, or ‘Strict Conservation Standard’. Facilities Management has agreed to pay for this service.

  • Allocate time for the Exhibitions Officer to be briefed on the system by Bill Pinkham from Downer and Glyn Benson from Set Point. This will allow gallery staff to make quick informed decisions.

  • Be responsive to different climate control needs. Turn off the HVAC when the building is empty, and introduce a section in the artist contract and loan agreements where the artist and/or lender can choose what temperature control they require for the exhibition of works.

  • Review the allowances for humidity and temperature, and consider having different settings for different seasons. For further advice on this consult Glyn Benson or

  • Identify times to experiment with introducing periods of having no HVAC to see if the conditions creep out of the agreed tolerance. This needs to be done in collaboration with Andrew Wilks and Bill Pinkham from Victoria University of Wellington, Rob Bishop from Energy Solutions and Glyn Benson from Set Point Solutions.


In the exhibition spaces there are two types of halogen fittings mounted on Conchord Tracks: wall washers and spotlights. This system is versatile, dimmable and has good properties for display, but halogen lights are energy intensive. The bathrooms and new entry have compact fluorescents which are more energy efficient. 5 6


  • Confirm that the recommendations made in the 2004 Energy Audit have been implemented (checking the night light requirements and repairing the pneumatic timer switch).

  • Replace the Radium RJL 90w / 12v / Skylight used in the spotlights with IRC 65 watt. These can be purchased through H & S Distributers Limited, Radium NZ Lighting, whom the Adam Art Gallery already has an account with.

  • Keep up with technological advances in exhibition lighting. For example, soon appropriate LED and fluorescent will become available.

  • Keep in mind the dimmers most efficient light/watt output is 80%.

  • Be vigilant about turning off unnecessary lights.


Installing a Solar PV system on the roof would help offset the gallery’s energy consumption and demonstrate the gallery’s commitment to endorsing renewable energy. With a standard 25–year warranty, it would easily pay itself off and provide a reliable source of energy. 7 8 9 10


  • If funds become available to reinvest in the building, install a PV Solar system on the roof in consultation with Right House, a subsidiary of Meridian, the energy providers of Victoria University of Wellington.

  • Be aware of technological developments in the industry. 11


The gallery consumes around 500 litres of paint a year. Currently it employs Resene’s Decorator Flat interior/exterior. Recent attention has focused on the effect of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions on our environment. It is estimated by the Paint Quality Institute that 10% of ozone depleting substances are a direct result of VOC emissions from surface coatings, including mainly standard household paints. Resene makes a VOC free product, but it is only available in low sheen.


  • When possible use Resene Zylone Sheen VOC Free range. 12


The Adam Art Gallery supports artists from all over the world and benefits hugely from travel. Unfortunately air travel is now the fastest growing contributor to global warming. The contribution to carbon emissions flying round trip from Auckland to Wellington can be reduced by 80% if travelled by train. The initial draw backs are time and money, but when you take into account travel to and from the airport and processing times, it only takes twice as long and is comparable in price. 13 14


  • Offer train travel as an alternative to plane travel in the artist agreement.

Energy Audit Report

In 2004, Energy Solutions Limited delivered a report summarising the Adam Art Gallery’s energy consumption and things it could do to be more efficient. Many of these things were never implemented. 15


  • Read this report as it will give important background and understanding for this project.

This letter makes suggestions for policy change developed through conversations with Andrew Wilks, Anton Berndt, Nigel Saywell, Micah Sherman, Bill Pinkham, Glyn Benson, and Rob Bishop from Energy Solutions. Please let me know what I can do to help you make these moves toward a forward-thinking operation and thank you so much for the invitation to be part of the show. 16 17 18



Fiona Connor

  1. 5 years ago

    Five years after writing this letter, I returned to the Adam Art Gallery to see whether any of the recommendations made in it had been implemented. I met with the experts who had originally advised me, and the gallery staff with whom the letter had been left.

  2. 4 years ago

    Andrew Wilks and his team set up these controls so gallery staff could choose between either strict conservation standards or regular building conditions where the HVAC would be turned off at night. Former gallery technician Anton Berndt was trained in using this new system, but Andrew is unsure if the gallery is still implementing this feature that allows the gallery to choose regular building conditions when conservation standards are unnecessary. The only time the HVAC system was completely turned off was during the ‘The Future Is Unwritten’ exhibition.

    Andrew tracks the energy consumption of all the buildings throughout the campus. He noticed the gallery started consuming less after this change was implemented, but has plateaued since. In 2014, the university was 36% below ‘business as usual’ and 11% below their target for electricity use in 2014.

    In the past year, Andrew has been working to further solidify the relationship between Victoria University and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) so the university can receive consistent support instead of having to apply for funds each time they undertake an energy conserving project. In effect, this means the university would have an account manager who would provide them with funds, which would result in the possibility of more projects being implemented. If Victoria University provides 60% of the budget, the EECA can provide 40%.

    One of these possible projects would be to undertake a more detailed analysis of the temperature and airflow throughout the university in an attempt to tune the HVAC system to be more efficient. This study would include the Adam Art Gallery. A common oversight is that too much outside air enters the building which needs to be cooled or heated, and this can create an energy sink. I brought up Rob Bishop’s interest in this too, and Andrew explained he used to work for Rob at Energy Solutions between graduating and becoming the Environmental Manager at Victoria University. It reminded me of how these sorts of initiatives are driven by the force of a few dedicated individuals in a community.

  3. 4 years ago

    Tina commented that it is the Exhibitions Officer who is responsible for implementing the technical and practical operations of the building. Previous officer Anton Berndt, who was working at the time of the letter, was highly committed to the project. However, as is often the case, maintaining the recommendations ceased along with his employment. Tina believes the implementation for adjusting the climate control is an aspect that continues to be monitored.

  4. 4 years ago

    Ralph Chapman describes the letter as a “realist” engagement with the serious problem of energy efficiency and (implicitly) climate change, given that the latter is largely caused by human energy generation and consumption. It is realist because my approach appreciates the constraints around the operations of the Adam Art Gallery. He summates that any reduction in energy use or increase in energy efficiency by the gallery is welcome, but the Adam has to keep functioning and be financially “realistic” in how it uses energy. He also states that this ongoing project takes place at a time of great transition in the world, a time when the world is starting to come to terms with the existential dilemma of the climate change.

  5. 4 years ago

    Andrew installed LEDs at various locations on campus such as the Law School and government buildings, and as a result the energy consumption in these buildings has reduced by 10%.

  6. 4 years ago

    Recently the gallery received funding to change their lighting to an LED system. The proposal outlined a range of reasons for doing so, one being that it would be more energy efficient. Although this new system would mean expensive up-front costs, the ongoing cost for replacing bulbs is decidedly more economical.

  7. 5 years ago

    When the letter was written in 2009, Sherman didn't recommend installing a Solar PV system for the Adam Art Gallery due to the fact that Victoria University, being a large organisation, had bargained down their energy prices, making solar energy financially unviable. He commented that solar power in New Zealand makes more sense in remote places like Gisborne, where one would pay three times more for energy than in a city such as Wellington. Sherman also mentioned that even though the price of solar technology has dropped dramatically in the last five years, there are still monetary and environmental costs that go along with the expense of maintenance and production.

    He reiterated that installing a Solar PV system at the Adam Art Gallery would purely be a gesture to demonstrate the institution's commitment to renewable energy.

  8. 4 years ago

    In the past five years, Andrew has been completing an economic feasibility study of using a PV Solar System around the university in three different scenarios: installing PV on the roof of the large buildings, some smaller structures, and the Victoria University Emergency Operations Centre at 6 Waiteata Rd (which would replace the diesel generators that are stored to provide ten days worth of energy). None of these studies came back as financially viable because it would take the university nine to seventeen years to pay back the cost. When I asked Andrew why this decision, he explained that if he has a certain amount of money to invest in this type of initiative he chooses the ones that have a quicker payback first.

  9. 4 years ago

    Tina thought that a Solar PV system did not make sense for the Adam Art Gallery. But a year later at the this website projects release she showed an interest in it’s viability which I relayed to Andrew Wilks who negated it.

  10. 4 years ago

    Ralph describes the situation in general terms: either we cut carbon emissions globally to around zero by about 2060, with developed countries reducing their emissions at a much faster rate than other countries, or we accept that the planet will warm over the danger threshold of 2°C, taking us into an era of unmanageable climate change. In this context, he states we need to think creatively about what Victoria University ought to be doing to cut its emissions. He then prompts a thought experiment: With this in mind, let’s consider the implications if the price of carbon went up from around US$7 per tonne of CO2 (as it is now) to around US$200 per tonne (say NZ$300 in round figures; and as some economists have estimated it should be if it is to reflect a more accurate social cost of carbon). What we would find is that the price of electricity would go up dramatically. Retail electricity prices might almost double. This would radically affect household and building managers’ views about electricity use. There would be an immediate response to cut back on electricity usage and generate more renewable electricity such as wind and solar PV. Solar PV would be immediately economic and could be easily installed on many rooftops around New Zealand. Wind power would also be more profitable.

  11. 5 years ago

    Sherman observed that money and efforts would be better spent in lowering the gallery's consumption of energy. He also remarked that New Zealand is slowly becoming more energy conscious, and New Zealanders are changing the way they use energy, for instance insulating homes to keep them warmer. We discussed retrofitting houses to make them more energy efficient, such as using responsive technologies that ensure lights are only on when you're in the room. Sherman pointed out that most of the energy in New Zealand comes from renewable resources, adding that even as someone who's completely behind solar energy, he chose natural gas for heating his Wellington home as it is still cheaper and more reliable.

    All of this aside, Sherman foresees PV growing exponentially as power prices go up due to carbon becoming more regulated and less available, eventually contributing to a "spiral of death" for the power companies.

  12. 4 years ago

    Victoria University uses Resene Low VOC paint. Andrew explained that most paints available on the market today are VOC free.

  13. 4 years ago

    The amount of people commuting to the university by car is slowly decreasing, but the numbers were good to start with. Only around 7% of students drive to campus and 30% of faculty. The University is doing a lot of work with the Wellington City Council to promote public transport, however overseas and out-of-town air travel is increasing, which is a problem.

  14. 4 years ago

    It is an exception that invited artists and guests travel from out of town to visit the gallery via train. The gallery is open to keeping the option in mind, and this review process has been a reminder to do so. When artists do travel from overseas for exhibitions, it is usual to plan a tour that involves them in the activities and programmes of other institutions throughout the country as well. This networking makes the most of their visit and the distance they have travelled.

  15. 4 years ago

    In March 2014, Victoria University appointed a new Vice Chancellor, Grant Guilford, who is particularly interested in sustainability. He created a new role entitled Assistant Vice Chancellor of Sustainability, which will hopefully lead to a more autonomous and aggressive sustainability program on campus, and has also been instrumental in divesting Victoria University from fossil fuel investment. Soon after the Vice Chancellor attended the 2014 Climate March in New York, Andrew’s department got an email announcing the decision to divest; he is not sure how much work went on behind the scenes in order to implement this.

    I asked Andrew if he saw Victoria University being able to achieve zero emissions anytime soon, it being the goal of numerous campuses in North America. He explained his department does not have the same level of funding as Victoria does not have as much income per student as universities in North America, where sustainability offices are also better staffed and budgets substantially larger. It is not possible for him to get financial support to retrofit all the buildings at Victoria University to achieve zero emissions, but they are in a position where he can advocate for including sustainability into the design of new buildings. I commented on how these aggressive emission reduction programmes have become part of the university’s identity and brand, and it seems that having an aggressive sustainability program in line with New Zealand’s green reputation would appeal to international students, who have been identified as a crucial area of income for the university. Andrew responded that unfortunately this is hard to argue for with the governing bodies who want to have quantifiable capital gains from capital investment.

    I asked Andrew to reflect on his time in Vancouver when he worked in the sustainability office at the University of British Columbia. He summated that environmental concerns were more engrained in the culture there, but this was more of a contradiction in that their typically North American lifestyle is hugely consumptive and involves driving massive cars, owning large houses, and waste galore. He saw a massive contrast between the masses doing day-to-day things and the bleeding edge where he was working, which had lots of money to throw at cool pilot projects/case projects that lead to substantive positive outcomes.

    Andrew thinks the gap in New Zealand between leaders in environmental projects and the efforts of the masses is much smaller than in Vancouver. However, there is a level of complacency in New Zealand as we are blessed with low population density, meaning our natural environment has been preserved. This clean green image is actually the result of being a fairly young country with a smaller population to urbanise. We are fortunate in that, until recently, the majority of our electricity supply has come from renewable sources like hydro, wind, and geothermal energy. These things have fallen into our lap, and we have not had to put in as much effort into making changes to be sustainable.

    Andrew does not feel optimistic that the world is going to respond to the immanent affects of global warming and is weary of the rhetoric that things are going to change; when he goes to climate change lectures and looks at forecasts for the next ten years, and the actions needed to reduce these, he cannot see it happening. He is part of a forum that meets in town every month to talk about sustainability issues, and there has not been as much change as expected.

    Andrew finished by saying he believes it is going to take a large catastrophe to cause people to make a bigger shift in their attitudes towards climate change, but that our behaviour and environmental footprint may change due to other forces like social or governmental change. He said that telling people the science is not working, and even talking to me about it in the context of art, felt like a breathe of fresh air.

  16. 5 years ago

    Overall, Sherman and I talked more about the economic incentives rather than the environmental or moral benefits of using solar power. I was left wondering whether these benefits would now be fact, and not need to be questioned, if the gallery had installed a Solar PV system when it had been built.

  17. 4 years ago

    On the subject of a worldwide campaign of universities leading the way on sustainable measures, based on acknowledging that our actions affect the future and New Zealand universities’ role in this, Tina felt she was not informed enough to take a position but knows there are those at Victoria University who are promoting and advising on sustainable actions. She believes everyone must take responsibility, and personally she is very willing to do her bit. Tina went on to say that, while it is of course important people are considering sustainability and acting accordingly, she considers these micro–actions are usually undertaken by people of great privilege, and we should keep in mind the large–scale flows of capitalism; encouraging third–world nation states with first-world incentives, like the purchasing of cars, is only going to cause exponential problems. Big–picture thinking is needed, and Tina doesn’t know how to best contribute to these big issues, which are structural and so engrained. She says we have accepted a capitalist system to live by, which is based on over–consumption.

    Tina informed me that as the Adam Art Gallery is on a restrictive budget, they are very careful about how things are used and reused. The aim of the exhibition programme is to present strong shows, that are worth revisiting, within the means of the gallery’s resources. The pace of the exhibition schedule, which tends to be thoughtful, well-researched, and slower than other galleries, also reduces the physical demands and cost of installs. Tina went on to explain an economy of scale that operates in the art world: the more successful and supported you are, the more demands you are able to place on resources. Such an artist is able to ship large, heavy works at great expense to the gallery, while similar artists working primarily with video can insist on a certain level of preparation of the exhibition space, also at great cost to the gallery. This stratum doesn’t necessarily recognise that we can’t all operate at that level, nor that everyone desires to; a modest attitude can still achieve strong work, just as there is courage in choosing other priorities over an ambitious career. The art world contains a broad spectrum of modes of working, and therefore differing levels of assumed responsibility for material consumption and the roles we play as part of a greater ecosystem.

  18. 4 years ago

    Ralph concludes, “The effects outlined here need to be happening now, rather than in some hypothetical future. We have essentially run out of time to solve it, and emergency action is now needed. Fiona’s project points out the limited amount of change that will take place under the current regime. Under current prices (especially the unrealistically low current price of carbon) it is not worth investing in Solar PV. But that is because the so-called real (economic) world has not yet caught up with the real world of the physics of climate change. The real world is actually stuck a couple of decades behind where it needs to be. My conclusion is that we need to break away from the so-called real world, which is actually out of touch with the physics, and start to take action based on the physics and the ethics of responsible action in a world of climate change.”