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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Art Studio, Week 8 14-18 Sept

Making artwork for Exposure (clay pots and debarking trunks), Artist talk, talk with Shannon Te Ao.


The artwork will consist of a floor piece in 3 parts that speak to the life cycle of the cicada: pohutukawa stamen indicating summertime; small clay pots that are coated with a slip made from the clay the cicada nymphs lived in; and pohutukawa bark and cicada shells sourced from the type of tree the shells were collected from.

(i) Clay Pots

These clay pots are my attempt to capture the nymph lifecycle of living underground for 2-3 years, parasitically feeding on sap sucked from the tree root.

Nymphs create a cavity in the soil beside a tree root that they suck sap from with their feeding tube. They remain in the same cavity the entire time they live undergo and during this time they go through 4 instar moults, increasing the size of their cavity as required. They use their excrement to line the cavity.

They emerge from the ground when changes in the sap and soil temperature indicate it is the appropriate time. Burrowing upwards, they emerge from the soil to climb high onto the trunk of the tree that has feed them and undergo their final install moult into adulthood and sexual maturity.

The pots are first made a red potters clay, then using clay sourced from the bank where the nymphs live, which I have powdered and mixed with honey and water, I've coated the pots and lined the bored holes with a little gold leaf.

The intention was to make roots and place the pots within but Raul thought it too man-made compared to the authenticity of the other materials to be included in Exposure. I think he is right as its all a little cutesy. 2.DEBARKING TREE


Mā te wā

12 Sep–10 Oct 2020

Returning to Mossman Gallery for Shannon’s exhibition was a valuable curatorial experience because of the contrast in the way the space was used compared to Emma’s previous exhibition.

The first thing that strikes me is the colour on the walls and pillars - gone is the stark white cube and in its place is a warm, earthly umber that wraps around you, creating a feeling of being safely held and nurtured within this enclosed space. It seems to contain an atmosphere of mysterious, other-worldliness. Such is the power of colour to transform a space.

Once placed within the room however, it becomes apparent that this feeling of being held safely is merely an illusion. Safety is quickly replaced by confusion as I struggle to understand where to begin my reading of the work. We are taught to read from left to right, but Shannon has skillfully disrupted this notion. The 12 photographic artworks offer a time lapse of a young boy moving through a time and a place, receding and advancing as the images wrap around one half of the room. Shannon has arranged the works right to left, from crisp lines to blurred as the movements increase. This, together with the push-pull of the foreground pillars and background walls, and the disorientation of the horizon line disorientates me! It forces me to question those innate tendencies we hold. I wonder too if the boy is throwing something into the emptiness of the two remaining walls, activating its emptiness.

It occurs to me that Shannon’s previous works explore the concept of walking backwards into the future. Here it seems as if we might be walking forwards into the past. This makes sense to me later when I read about the work described on Mossman Gallery website: “The resulting photographs document a process of transition or transformation from one state to another. They are richly layered portraits that transcend specific circumstances to speak to wider histories and unfixed meanings. Mā te wā – see you later, time will tell.”

On the top left edge of each photograph is a beautiful mark that speaks to the process of filmmaking and the moving image. I assume, foolishly, the images are processed from splices of film from one of Shannon’s movies, but later discover only the background image is and the images of the boy are photographs layered over. This is a wonderful play of genres that creates a space that confuses.

Having seen the exhibition several weeks ago, I can still recall the experience of being in the room and encountering it. Someone said to me that good art leaves something to be resolved, making you ponder it even after you have stopped looking at it. This is good art, thoughtfully curated and thought provoking.

Mā te wā –see you later, time will tell


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