top of page
  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, July 5-11 2021

Wananga at Tūkorehe Marae; Rangi Matamua's Matariki and The Decolonisation Of Time; Marian MacGuire's 2011 Titokowaru's Dilemma; New Materialism.

1. MFA Wananga at Kuku Beach

What a special opportunity for MFA cohorts to be invited by Huhana Smith to stay at Tūkorehe Marae in Kuku, just south of Levin. The marae, Te Iwi o Ngati Tūkorehe, was opened in 1894 and is in the heart of 'The Lake in the Sand Country' landscape I had just finished reading about in Geoff Park's book Te Ururoa. Companionship, conversations, wonderful food and a hikoi to see Huhana's research project on her iwi's whenua made for an enriching experience.

For the last 20 years, Huhana has developed a team to integrate "mātauranga Māori methods with sciences to actively address climate change concerns for coastal Māori lands in Horowhenua-Kāpiti". Huhana's project seeks to find sustainable methods of land use that will provide long term economic benefit for her community. We witnessed the slow, gradual healing of a portion of the land as it returned to wetland after decades of dairy farming. Reeds and harakeke now grow around the border of newly created lakes; they begin the long journey of mending a broken and lost "ancient moist forest" (Park).

Before we left, Lindsay asked us to share our highlights and any lessons we might take with us on our return home. I shared the privilege of meeting tangata whenua and witnessing their love for their whenua, and my delight in waking up under the heke (rafters) of the marae. The lesson I would like to carry forward with me is the importance of walking beside others.

2. Rangi Matamua's Matariki and the Decolonisation of Time

Discussion of Rangi Matamua's article Matariki and the decolonisation of time....

  • Western time: monochronic - sun, religion and politics of labour post industrialisation

  • Maori time: polychronic - triangulation between lunar, stella, and flora and fauna seasonal patterns - ensured food security; who uses Maori timekeeping system now? Growers - no?; becoming isolated you if you dropped out of western time system

  • Broken systems: western system led to overpopulation, colonisation and damaged environment

  • How does deforestation impact Maori time system?

  • Matariki: bicultural; forcing it within western time system means wrong day to celebrate (4 day period); can two systems of time co-exist? how to honour rituals and beliefs embedded in Maori Matariki celebrations?

  • Timeless/formless: creating something, bringing it into existence; role of guardians; fluidness of time

  • Keeping large scale of time: geneology to measure 700-800 years

  • How to move forward with broken systems? Small steps begun in the home, empowering this and next generation

3. Marian Maguire - Tītokowaru's Dilemma, 2011

'Bilingual Belly Amphora, 1867, Tītokowaru Ponders the Embers' lithograph,2009/10, 765 x 570mm. Sourced from Marian Maguire

'Socrates and Tītokowaru discuss the question, ‘What is Virtue?’' lithograph, 2009/10, 407 x 637mm. Sourced from Marian Maguire

'Tītokowaru and Te Whiti discuss the question, ‘What is Peace?’' lithograph, 2010/11, 460 x 655mm. Sourced from Marian Maguire

I think Marian Maguire's series of twenty seven lithographs and etchings from Tītokowaru's Dilemma (2011) is one of the most respectful and thought provoking art made by a pakeha artist in Aotearoa. The intro to her Taupo exhibition states this series, "focusses on the thoughts and actions of the charismatic Riwha Titokowaru, who was involved with the Taranaki land wars in the 1860s and later in the passive resistance movement at Parihaka. Maguire said she chose Titokowaru as the primary character because she admired him. 'He was a very, very bright man, and he was capable of changing his thinking, which not many people can do,' she said. 'He won the battles but lost the war. The process of colonisation was too big.'" (Taupō Museum)

By conflating ancient Greek heroes and vase paintings with New Zealand colonial historical paintings, Maguire's prints "tease our imaginations with human connections across time". Tītokowaru is depicted in discussion with Socrates debating ‘what is virtue?’, and discussing ‘what is peace?’ with Te Whiti. Maguire positions Tītokowaru among the greatest of Greek heroes, acknowledging him as 'a thinking man' of mythical status.

In critiquing Maguire's art, Art History Professor Elizabeth Rankin recounts Tītokowaru's life -

"Tītokowaru was a trained Māori tohunga but a Christian convert; an advocate of peace but an outstanding military strategist; a powerful and charismatic leader but one who lost the support of his followers. Rather than simply confusing us, these diverse characteristics offer a more nuanced understanding of Tītokowaru than we might have of more conventional early New Zealanders. And it was this that made him an absorbing subject for Maguire, whose prints exploring colonial history challenge simplistic readings of the past."

These prints are over 10 years old and today I imagine there might be ethical questions asked about the appropriateness of a Pakeha using symbols and stories of another's cultural heritage - it is hoped Marian asked permission - but notwithstanding, these works offer Aotearoa the opportunity to reexamine our cultural crossover.

4. New Materialism

Julieanna's comments in the summative feedback have encouraged me to reread the research I did last year on New Materialism.

Essay on New Materialism (2020):

This essay explores the contemporary theory of New Materialism in relation to the artmaking practice. New Materialism asserts matter is active and alive, which contrasts directly with the constructivist notion of matter as inert and passive. Tim Ingold describes New Materialism as “bringing things to life through creative entanglements” that occur as materials flux and flow (Ingold 1). This participatory process between human and non-human things recognises that vibrancy and agency exist within all things.

Vibrant matter and distributive agency are the fundamental principles of New Materialism. American art teacher Emily Hood, and Amelia Kraehe (Assistant Professor, College of Visual Arts and Design, University of North Texas) describe vibrant matter, as “each object has a presence – a being” (Hood and Kraehe 33). The term was proposed by Jane Bennett in 2010 and holds that all things (eg. plants, animals, rocks and air) have a sense of being and an interconnectedness with other things. Hood and Kraehe define distributive agency as “thing-power…the shared energies that move us when we are in co-creative relationships with the non-human presences in the world” (Hood and Kraehe 33).

The concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency articulate the core of my art practice as a sculptor and printmaker. While my art holds a formalist aesthetic, driven by an ontology that states form itself holds the meaning, it is important to me to respect and understand the materials I engage with. Each material requires a different process and response and this understanding of how to interact allows the creative voice to become visible in the material I work with. In the past, I have engaged with a variety of materials (wax, metal, glass, clay, paper, inks and paint) but most recently I have been drawn to discarded materials and detritus (e.g. cicada shells, pōhutukawa stamen and bunny tail flowers) which hold low status and a seasonal, environmental and ecological narrative. These materials are reused and recycled to create things that will eventually decompose.

Hood and Kraehe suggest the concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency provide opportunities for artists and educators to rethink the artmaking process. They state, “new materialism goes beyond traditional inquiry methods in art education. It calls for contemplative speculation grounded in a relational ethics toward the materiality of all things” (Hood and Kraehe 35). They suggest it requires students to have an awareness of and receptivity to “the sensation of their own interchange with materials as they explore, experiment, and create” and state “getting lost is to be curious, caught up, and entangled, not with the idea of art but with the material work of art” (Hood and Kraehe 36).

This idea of entangling with the material work of art resonates within me, as I feel my practice is an exploration of process and materiality within a contemplative inquiry. However, reconciling this exploration within the context of formalism, which I am also drawn to, is more problematic for me. Tim Ingold (British anthropologist and Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen) provides some insight into this dilemma by offering a completely different perspective on form and materials in his paper Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials (2010).

Ingold develops the idea of entanglement, stating “a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials” (Ingold 2). First, he argues our understanding of an object as discrete and finite is flawed because all form engages in leakage “forever discharging through the surfaces that form temporarily around them” (given my love of form, this was a thunderbolt!) (Ingold 3). Second, he states there are no objects only things, and “a thing is a ‘going on’… a place where several goings on become entwined” in “a continuous trajectory of becoming“ as materials flux and flow (Ingold 4-10). He suggests “in a world without objects we are invited to participate” in this meshwork of things thinging, “where boundaries are sustained only thanks to the flow of materials across them” (Ingold 5, 11).

Ingold disagrees with Hood and Kraehe’s notion of distributive agency, suggesting “things move and grow because they are alive, not because they have agency” (Ingold 7). He argues things cannot be captured and contained because they are not objects, and agrees with Deleuze (a renowned French philosopher) and Guattari (a French psychoanalyst) who state, “when we encounter matter, ‘it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation’” (Ingold 7). By focusing on following the flux and flow of material processes of formation to bring things to Life, Ingold asserts a new creation ontology, haecceity, to replace Aristotle’s hylomorphic model of creation (i.e. creation occurring when form and matter are brought together). However, Jonathan Basile, a doctoral student of Comparative Literature at Emory University, challenges how novel this theory of New Materialism is, given its underlying concept of matter as free and lively is merely in opposition to the constructivist assertion that matter is inert and passive. He argues this reversal of reasoning does not “deconstruct underlying concepts” nor create something truly novel (Basile 1).

Perhaps the best answer to Basile’s criticism that New Materialism offers nothing novel, is to appreciate contemporary artists who employ its ideas in their practice. Amelia Jones, an American Art Theorist, does this in her article Material Traces: Performativity, Artistic “Work,” and New Concepts of Agency, 2015. She describes the work of four artists, Heather Cassils, Paul Donald, Juliana Cerqueira Leite and Mark Igloliorte, who share a common approach of engaging with the flux and flow of material processes, in a performative manner, to bring things to Life and “produce new spaces of meaning” (Jones 21). Cassil’s work, Becoming an Image 2013, is a 20 minute performative work involving the artist (wearing boxing gloves) bashing a 2,000lb slab of clay which results in both the artist and clay being “marked by the material traces of artistic labor” (Jones 20). In Untitled (Studs) 2013, Donald has carved small organic forms into one end of 20 studs of pine (2x4’s used in the building industry) and the residual marks of his labour animate the vibrant matter of the wood. Cerqueira Leite’s work, the climb is also the fall, 2011, is a large dramatic sculptural work suspended from the ceiling that seems to rise and fall simultaneously. Using a variety of materials to mold her body, she has imprinted her artistic labour in the work, and viewers “are literally impressed in turn by these marks of having been made, evocative of creative effort” (Jones 24). In all these works, the “interrelations among thought, action, and materiality for the artist as well as subsequent experiencers” are apparent (Jones 29).

Karen Barad, noted American physicist, epistemologist and feminist, describes performativity as a performance art that focuses on intra-active participation between materials and “challenges the representationalist belief in the power of words to represent pre-existing things” (Barad 802). In her article, Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter (2003), Barad argues New Materialism offers a posthumanist theory to challenge the social constructivist ontological of humans as the prime subject who exert their will on inert, passive matter. By rethinking the agency and vitality of all materiality, and the indefinite nature of boundaries and flattening of hierarchies, Barad challenges humanity’s anthropocentric social construct to diffract and become more inclusive of feminist and queer theories. Jones, however, disputes the belief that New Materialism places us beyond human (posthuman), proposing instead that the artist’s labour with materialities, and the imprints made visible, activate a greater connectedness and relationship with matter.

Ramya Ravisankar, an Indian-American artist, summarises the contribution of New Materialism to artmaking practice and philosophical inquiry in his dissertation, Artmaking as Entanglement: Expanded notions of artmaking through new materialism (2020). He describes New Materialism as a departure from “reflexive accounts that privilege the artist and researcher as the prime subject”, and instead “embraces a diffractive methodology ... (that offers) insights on the role of matter, material, and materiality … (so that)… the very notion of what constitutes materiality in artmaking is in flux.” (Ravisankar 2). Engaging the diffractive method in the artmaking practice was first proposed by Barad and is borrowed from the scientific idea of light waves that bend around an object, or through an aperture, throwing light into the geometrical shadow of the object i.e. diffraction creates a secondary source, to light what is hidden in darkness and place shadows in areas of light.

Ravisankar describes diffraction as “a mapping of interference, not of replication, reflection or reproduction” and articulates how he uses the diffractive methodology in his own art practice, likening it to two rocks, dropped into still water, which create patterns of complex matrices thanks to the continuous rippling and interference of waves. He states, “doing this with information and ‘data’ received through the Artmaking/Research process is challenging. In this study, shifting my approach from reflection to diffraction allows me to produce and attend to the differences enabled by reading insights through one another” (Ravisankar 23). He states, “I can read the ‘data’ attained through entanglement and intra-action with material through new materialist theories to allow for insights, interferences, and differences to emerge” (Ravisankar 23).

This methodology of diffraction embraces uncertainty and chaos, and abandons neat and tidy! Not only has the diffractive method enabled novel practices in artmaking but it has also created opportunities to rethink and apply different strategies to many areas of contemporary social practice and cognitive inquiries. Thomson and Linnell’s 2020 essay, Enchanted Encounters with the Liveliness of Matter and Art Forcing Thought, describes approaches for supporting people encountering death through artmaking that focuses on materiality and creates space for new thoughts to emerge. Stubbe’s 2020 inquiry, Material Practice as a Form of Critique, investigates alternate methods to critique established modes of cognitive forms of knowledge through the process of making, and Alexandra Effe employs new analytical tools and methods in cognitive literary studies as evidenced in her 2020 article, Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antije Krog’s Country of My Skull.

In conclusion, the concepts of vibrant matter and distributive agency embedded in New Materialism, and Barad’s diffractive methodology, have enabled new ways of thinking and understanding to be applied to artmaking practices and philosophical inquires and go some way to discredit Basile’s assertion that New Materiality offers nothing novel. The idea of Entanglement, described by many of the authors referenced in this literature review, challenges the constructivist ontology of active subjects exerting their will upon inert material objects. Instead, New Materialism attempts to describe a creative process where materiality is in a state of flux which we, the artists, are invited to participate in.

Annotated Bibliographies:

Amelia Jones. Material Traces: Performativity, Artistic “Work,” and New Concepts of Agency. Vol. 59, no. 4, 2015, pp. 18–35. EBSCOhost, 37&site=eds-live&scope=site. By investigating contemporary performative artworks, Jones challenges the belief new materialism places us beyond human (posthuman), proposing instead that the artist’s labour with materialities, and the imprints made visible, activate a greater connectedness and relationship with matter.

Effe, Alexandra. “Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 56, no. 1, Feb. 2020, pp. 97–109. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/17449855.2019.1702084. Effe analyses Krog’s political poem, Country of My Skull, through a cognitive-formalist scientific approach, to understand how the formal, aesthetic dimensions of postcolonial literature act as agents for social transformation by unlocking patterns of thought and feelings in the reader. Critical issues of the ethics of empathy and truth are discussed.

Garber, Elizabeth. “Objects and New Materialisms: A Journey across Making and Living with Objects.” Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research in Art Education, vol. 60, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 7–21. EBSCOhost, direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1209955&site=edslive&scope=site.

Garber shares how new materialism has transformed her art practice, created new knowledge systems based on an awareness of all matter possessing animacy, and altered her way of living.

Harari, Yuval Noah. “Human History Will End When Men Become Gods.” NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 6–13. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/npqu.12223. In this interview, Harari expands on his idea that the underlying ideology of humanity is changing from one of humanism into dataism, which will herald the evolution of a new Godlike species i.e. artificial intelligence.

Hood, Emily and Amelia M. Kraehe. “Creative Matter: New Materialism in Art Education Research, Teaching, and Learning.” Art Education, vol. 70, no. 2, Mar. 2017, pp. 32–38. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00043125.2017.1274196. Hood and Kraehe investigate how using the principles of “thing-power” and “distributive agency”, embedded in new materialism, can redefine art education practice as a research based methodology.

Ingold, Tim. “Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials.” Realities, Working Paper #15, 2010/07/20. Ingold challenges Aristotle’s hylomorphic model of creation (i.e. creation occuring when form and matter are brought together) by arguing form is not a discrete, finite object but rather a leaking thing that meshes and entangles with other leaking things. He describes a new creation ontology, haecceity, that focuses on processes of formation to bring things to Life by following the fluxes and flows of material.

Jonathan Basile. Life/Force: Novelty and New Materialism in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter. Vol. 48, no. 2, 2019, pp. 3–22. EBSCOhost, 61&site=eds-live&scope=site. Basile challenges how novel the theory of New Materialism is, given its underlying concept of matter as free and lively is merely in opposition to constructivism’s assertion that matter is inert and passive.

Karen Barad. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs, vol. 28, no. 3, 2003, p. 801. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1086/345321. Barad argues performativity, which focuses on intra-active participation between materials, offers a posthumanist theory to challenge the social constructivist ontological of matter as inert and passive. By rethinking the agency and vitality of all materiality, and the indefinite nature of boundaries, Barad challenges humanity’s anthropocentric social construct to diffract and become more inclusive of feminist and queer theories.

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” Information Society, vol. 27, no. 4, July 2011, pp. 252–260. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01972243.2011.583819. Ratto provides a summary of experiments designed to illustrate the importance of connecting lived experience, through the process of making, to conceptual knowledge in order to reconnect society and technology.

Ravisankar, Ramya. "Artmaking as Entanglement: Expanded notions of artmaking through new materialism." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2019. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 01 Mar 2020. Ravisankar proposes new materiality offers an opportunity to reconceptualise the role of matter, material, and materiality in artmaking practices and philosophical inquiries. He suggests the notion of flux is at the heart of materiality, and the artmaking process.

Stubbe, J. “Material Practice as a Form of Critique.” Interaction Design and Architecture(S), vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 30–46. EBSCOhost, 85010693225&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.

Stubbe discusses how the process of “making” and haptic engagement with physical materials offers an opportunity to critique established modes of cognitive forms of knowledge.

Thomson, Jody, and Sheridan Linnell. “Enchanted Encounters with the Liveliness of Matter and Art Forcing Thought.” Emotion, Space and Society, vol. 35, May 2020. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.emospa.2020.100656.

Using the theory of new materialism and the liveliness of matter, Thompson and Linnell reexamine the value of performative artmaking for those encountering death, and how it might change thought in unexpected ways.


bottom of page