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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, Sept 27-Oct 3 2021

Back on campus (which feels very foreign!) and one-on-ones as we prepare for the final three weeks of semester, Making artwork, Researching core samples of forest dating back 7,000 years

1.One-on-one with Hemi and Julieanna

I showed Hemi my Nested Now poetry book and we spoke about respecting and acknowledging the customs of mana whenua, and what this means to my art practice and my thesis proposal. For the thesis, Hemi suggested I acknowledge myself as Pakeha, without mana whenua, and explain that I am entering the forest to form a relationship with the trees and would not be taking anything out. He wondered what the trees might receive, if anything? We spoke about how society wants to separate out areas for nature and for people, and how this division separates us from our natural environment so we no longer see the patterns of change occurring in nature. This is exacerbated by our method of buying and consuming food sourced outside of our environment, and how our consumerism means we no longer appreciate our impact on the environment.

Hemi shared his approach to art practice, which speaks to nature also. He doesn't use local natural materials sourced from here as his iwi is not from Wellington. He explained the importance of process and materiality in both his and my work, and how this process forms the impetus for making. Looking through the poetry book, Hemi felt the blue pastel work displayed more spontaneity and marks of process and material, compared to the more contrived lines of the circles and rock works. This lit a fire inside me and I wondered about revisiting the installation I had planned in my head for the next crit??

Ideas discussed - of trees as metaphor for humans, our feet rooted in the soil of the earth, and our figures upright, reaching into the sky above; trees communicating with each other, touching and sheltering each other; one tree within a community of a forest of trees. I wondered if it might be better not to have the bonsai in the thesis project as the narrative of a single tree was already contained within a forest and the bonsai spoke to other cultures.

Lots to consider.

Julieanna suggested using the next three weeks of semester to explore my dialogue with the trees as a way of moving forwards and bridging the space between this years work and next years. Maybe the gap is much less than I think? She felt the idea of the bonsai was useful to the thesis as trees in forests grow sensitively within the space of neighbouring trees, adjusting their growth accordingly which has a resonance with the pruning and shaping of bonsai.

Julieanna's advice was reassuring. It will keep me moving forwards rather than feeling the need to seek a sense of resolution in my art making practice. Maybe I need to accept that tension and ambiguity add a richness to the artwork for the audience? While reflection is important in the artmaking practice, so much of it is about moving towards the unknown, led by process and materiality. The MFA asks for quite a different set of learning to take place.

2. Making artwork for crit

Julieanna has said the crit is "casual yet inquisitive, reflecting on new work, the semester and contemplating what is on the horizon or still in the stars." This is a little different - is it less about presenting a resolved artwork and more about putting the work out to generate discussion? Hmmm...

When confused about how to proceed I try to be still and see/hear what speaks to me. Given the year 3 presentations were using 10A18 for their presentations this week I took some time to just sit in the room and see what came up...after a while...still no I started to shift the 2 wooden boxes from toystore around, positioning them here and there here and there... until facing each other from wither sides and between the space of the poles...I think that will do as a starting place. The idea of the living body and the lived body in conversation. I'll see what emerges once I place the other non-objects in the room on Sunday lol.

Oddly I realise I am using space as my material now - the objects I am thinking of placing in the room are almost insubstantial - everyday materials that are used outside of their functional context i.e. tape used for joining and wrapping, tissue paper (shaped by the sea) that is also used for wrapping/protection, and thread used for joining. The materials' 'presence' in the room is greater than their actual physical presence and this is very interesting to me.

For me. this crit is about illustrating my learning from this year i.e. that Space is dynamic, nonlinear and existing within a cultural landscape. While I will explore the forest in more detail next year, it will be influenced by this knowledge which allows a more reflective engagement with the environment around me, one based on perceptions, impressions and memory tracers. For me this is the language of feelings and emotions rather than objects - a wonderful departure.

Between the two boxes I will place a veil of white threads. I will also use the wave tissue paper artworks made by leaving the paper in the sea and letting the outgoing tide form and shape the paper. This are referenced in the poetry I wrote ("water rising to submerge me"). I will glue these onto the wall. I may mark the positions of mountain, forest and sea again...not sure.

I'm also drawing the forest from my deck, beginning my exploration of the forest from with outside before I enter. I am trying to capture the greens, purples, yellows and red in the NZ beech forest - its quite hard. Drawing with watercolour pencils and when finished I will leave the drawing in the rain to be washed by the same water as the forest. I'll present one of these at the crit.

3. Research on East Harbour Park

I reached out to my neighbour, George Gibb (ecologist and scientist at Victoria University) as I was trying to understand the age of the beech forest in East Harbour Park. When researching I found references to NZ beech forest being remnants from when NZ separated from Gondwanaland 135m years ago. Wow , this is old! So I wanted to discuss what this really meant as its quite hard to find info.

From: Suzy And John Costello Sent: Wednesday, 22 September 2021 11:20 AM To: George Gibbs Subject: Age of forest

Hi George and Keena,

I'm trying to work out how old the East Harbour forest is, prior to burnings and clearing for farming in the ate 1800s. I can't seem to find an answer on line - other than NZ beech forests have survived since separating from Gondwanaland 135 million years ago. Do either of you have any idea?

From: George Gibbs Sent: Thursday, 23 September 2021 11:20 AM To: Suzy And John Costello Subject: Age of forest

Hi Suzy,

My understanding was that you wanted to know how old the beech forest was on these hills?? Is that the gist of it? Unfortunately there is no simple answer!

In 2002 I prepared a Report for DoC on the Conservation Values and Maganement of the Pencarrow Lakes. (now Parangarahu).

Students from Vic University had developed projects focussed on ageing the lake deposits. Some cores were drilled in the lake bed for that purpose and pollen analysed. One student is cited in my Report's Reference List. The reference is:

Cochran, A. 1995: A palaeoenvironmental history of Lake Kohangapiripiri, Fitzroy Bay, Wellington. Unpublished BSc Hons Project, School of Earth Sciences, Victoria University.

A published reference that might help is: Cochran, U.; Goff, J.; Hannah, M.; Hull, A. 1999: Relative stability on a tectonically active coast: palaeoenvironment during the last 7000 years at Lake Kohangaprirpiri, Wellington, New Zealand. Quarternary International 56:53-63.

These should be available to you at the Vic Geological Library. They should give dates obtained from the cores going back 7000 years from which you can estimate when certain changes took place in the catchment vegetation. It will show beech (as Nothofagus). Can you make sense of this? Not a simple answer to your question Suzy! I think you would find the librarian at the Geology Department's Library very helpful.

From: Suzy And John Costello Sent: Thursday, 23 September 2021 11:20 AM To: George Gibbs Subject: Age of forest

Thank you George for such a wonderful answer! Nothing is static and tectonics really shake things up. Do you think our forests are descendants of the beech forests of gondwana land? I will definitely follow up as you suggested. It may be that Massey has a link to Victoria library so I'll check it out.And don't you love Eastbourne? I received your email via a friend, Audrey Sheared!!!! She loved your email too.... and you are doing fine with technology George and Keenan. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me George xxxx

From: George Gibbs Sent: Thursday, 23 September 2021 11:20 AM To: Suzy And John Costello Subject: Age of forest

For the age of these forests, you are thinking about Māori occupation and how much forest clearance they did while living around the Lakes area. Prior to that it is a matter of forest expansion after the last glaciation - a matter of little concern to the question of when the present forest occupied the landscape. I am hoping you will get some data on the timing from the cores that I suggest you investigate.

Easy to burn off a forest cover and be left with grassland but it takes time to re-establish the trees.

The beech trees definitely share a common ancestry with those of South America. We call that connection Gondwanan because it most likely is due to a common land link between the continents (from before New Zealand was isolated). Much older than the cicadas!

These are the two research papers George recommended -

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