My artistic concerns are mainly around connectedness between people, ideas and things. My practice has a strong Earth references from the materials I use and because I make everything with my hands. My work has encompassed ideas around the mind and memory, language and feeling, around Macro/ Micro scale shifts, to the body’s relationship with the land and with time.
A recent conversation with KyungMi, a dancer/ choreographer from Korea, brought up her idea of Ancient Future, which is a great way to visualise a response to the complexities of the contemporary world using plants and hand techniques from antiquity.
My breakthrough into structural form was developed from finding Paruwhatitiri, Ghost Farts (!) , Basket Fungi, said by Maori to come from the underworld. My interest in baskets as objects and as metaphors, obviously connects with me with these extraordinary things which seem animal when first encountered.
I live and work in Christchurch NZ but I have traveled around NZ a lot previous to moving here in 1995. If you’re interested in that story, read on-
My Father’s family came to Christchurch in 1859, and Mum’s to Dunedin in the 1880’s, but I was born in Mangawhai /Wellsford in the North. My parents took us camping in remote places, and have me a love of sailing and swimming, of rocks and trees. I began coming South when I was 16, and continued travelling a lot, living in different places until I found my home. These included the Hokianga, where I have family connections, Cambridge, Auckland, Motueka, Waiohine Gorge in the Wairarapa, Central Otago, and Dunedin, finally coming to Christchurch, where I feel most settled, and have lived since 1995. It was nice to discover family roots here in Christchurch from 100 years before my birth.
I trained in Raranga (Flax Weaving) under the auspices of Whakatutu Marae, in Nelson, before it was actually built, in 1982. My teacher was Heeni Kerekere of Gisbourne, and to a lesser extent I was also taught by her teacher, Erenora Puketapu Hetet. We made Whaariki for the Wharenui, and so learned to make kete, potae, and of course kono, as part of our training.
When the scheme ended I traveled on horseback around the South Island for a year or so, stopping to work sometimes but generally surviving by making kete from stands of wild harakeke as we traveled. After settling in the Wairarapa, at the top of the Waiohine Gorge, I was very fortunate to be accepted for a short and intense course at the School of Maori Arts and Crafts at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, in the care of Emily Schuster and the Guides, to learn about Piupiu. This was a wonderful experience.
I acknowledge my teachers and respect the gifts they have given me. I really value these connections.They have helped me to feel rooted to the Earth. All of the Raranga techniques I use have either been given to me personally, or I have invented them. They all connect with people or places.
When I later attended Otago Polytechnic School of Art and majored in sculpture, I was already very influenced by traditional methods of fibre construction, and by the environmental friendliness of using plants to make art with. I began to build a sculptural practice using line and the vessel form, mostly in natural materials such as nikau fibre, harakeke, and willow, apart from some major installation works using recycled plastics. This was in Dunedin in the early 90’s.
I was involved in with Moana Nui A Kiwa while living in Dunedin, attending Weaving Hui around the South Island , and helping to instigate the first exhibition of Raranga at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1994.
I moved to Christchurch in 1995 and became a secondary school art teacher, which is still part of my life although in a much reduced capacity, since I recently changed to part time and resigned as Head of Department.
I would like to acknowledge Murray Parsons and Sue Scheele for the access they granted me to the Renee Orchiston National Harakeke Collection, a selection from which we planted at Riccarton High School, and at Darfield High School, and which also forms part of my own Pa Harakeke. I must also mention Kath Brown for her friendliness and warm welcome when I first moved here. Although I didn’t go on to join the local weaving groups here in Christchurch, I loved that contact in Dunedin.
Lastly I would like to mention the BPN, the Biopolymer Network, who with AgResearch at Lincoln have developed a yarn made from machine-scutched harakeke fibre. They are experimenting with combining this processed fibre with resins (both plant and oil based) as a sustainable alternative to fibreglass, and invited me to experiment with these materials a few years ago (2009). Since I fully support variety in agrarian ideas, and really love the harakeke, this initiative has my full support. I also love the yarn on its own although I have found a lot of new possibilities when using resins in combination with gravity and tension, to create new work that is more permanent than was previously possible.
While the huge challenge of creating sculpture/ art from flax and other natural materials is the greater part of what I do as an artist, I also use plastics and recycled materials for their story and for their aesthetic. I also paint, draw, print-make, make photographs, and have also worked in film and performance. I find the different media I work with interrelate and inform each other in my practice, and have found I prefer this broad base over the more usual focused and singular vision. This has somehow allowed me to teach and garden and walk and have the life I like, alongside my ongoing art life.