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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, March 28 - April 3 2021

Crit of Agency artwork, Year 2.5 final crits, Informal assessment with Julieanna, Making more artwork.


I really enjoyed this week's critique on agency. Each student's response explored a different aspect of agency (i.e. AI, material agency, agency of the artist in response to the impermanence of our life, the influence of culture) and it seemed to bring out areas of uncertainty in our practice. This generated lots of meaningful discussion on why we make art and how to deal with the uncertainty that arises during artmaking.

Feedback from my artwork was challenging and I was asked to examine why both weeks artworks had geometric graphic patterns imposed on organic matter and why the work was not convincing. Feedback included -

  • suggestions to engage with water more viscerally i.e. in the bath to examine ripples, or use water on the floor

  • using digital light to create the moving patterns

  • that the drawings operated as vibration spreading outwards but also as a target focusing inwards, and

  • that it would have been more successful without the white.

I spoke of discovering the diffraction pattern in water as I glazed down from a bridge and watched the water finding its way around a concrete pillar in the river.


Year ones were invited into the year 2.5 crit session. After more than 2 years working on their art and writing their exegesis it was fascinating to be offered a glimpse into their art making process and see the conceptual development in their work as it neared completion. Mentors offered feedback on presenting their final works for assessment and referred to previous iterations of the work and past discussions on material that helped contextualise it.

I went to three presentations: a performative piece on identity; another titled How did I get here which discussed colonisation; and lastly, photographs of artworks exploring environmentalism and the human/nature divide.

Given this was their last critique, it offered a final chance to tease out any issues needing to be resolved before completing their exegesis. Some of my questions were tactless (not unusual for me!) but I was concerned the work How did I get here did not include an examination of the 'I' (i.e. researching whakapapa or site specific landscape photos) which would have offered a chance to explore the praxis more deeply.

The final work was also complex. The artist's exegesis is a philosophical discourse on humanity's relationship with nature. Running alongside, but not discussed, was the artist's large body of paintings with its own language embedded within the art i.e. contemporary emojis, repeating patterns, pastel colours positioned within a modernist context. I would have thought this was a significant part of the exegesis; unravelling the code within the art. My question, aimed at teasing out the signs, symbols and icons so important in the work (particularly in reference to colonialism and whakapapa mentioned in the introductory talk) provoked a strong response concerning my colonial viewpoint and inability to understand Māori tikanga. This is entirely understandable and I can take that home to unpack, but feel it was an opportunity missed by the artist to discuss his work from a different point of reference i.e. his artmaking.

The complexity of reading the artworks' language was alluded to in his response to my question asking how colonisation was represented in his work. His reply referenced Geoff Park's essay on the history of conservation in New Zealand and the stealing of Maori land. Park's essay spoke about the history of pictorial landscapes, or pictorial scenes, and I wondered if the artist's paintings were speaking to this mode of representation? Are they landscapes? Is there a horizon line? Or are they placed within the genre of still life? If so, why did he use this mode of representation?

While the artist's exegesis is about the human/nature divide, it is also an example of another divide operating in contemporary art today - the feeling/thinking divide - that enables the dominance of words over visual imagery, and the unrelenting habit of finding meaning in the process of interpretation rather than in the process of experiencing the art.


Julieanna and I met to discuss the progress of my work and consider how to proceed in the next half of the semester.

We spoke about the two artworks that overlaid graphic design on natural, organic materials and the other student's allergic response towards them. We discussed the influence of Richard Serra and Robert Smithson's work from the 1970-80s.

Tilted Spheres R. Serra, 1981 Wikipedia

Spiral Jetty, R Smithson 1970.

Julieanna asked what this style offered contemporary art now and if' I owned it'? If so, there is a lot of writing and research to investigate this style further (which I will do). I explained that I am drawn towards formalism and the aesthetics of minimalism, it's a fall back position of mine, but I was uncomfortable about 'owning it' as I cringe from repetition and a narrowing of responses. For me, this style was a response to the Recalibrate show. Julieanna suggested that for my next artworks I respond to my recent works that have in turn responded to the Recalibrate works!

This master course is an opportunity to investigate my hesitancy to focus on one conceptual theme, to challenge my broadsweep approach to art and focus more clearly on the heart of what is important to me. To help me along, Julieanna asked me to articulate the things I don't like, that get under my skin, in an effort to break down nice, affirming Suzy.

I was raised in an Irish catholic home where the importance of honesty towards oneself and others was paramount and deception, deceit and lying were to be rooted out! During my life I have understood that this is not as black and white as a child might perceive it to be, that self-honesty is difficult and compassion is needed towards oneself and others. Failure is inherent in living, but the aim is still meaningful. So I guess my answer to Julieanna is that deception, deceit and lying get under my skin.

The deception that upsets me the most is how the ego wants to continuously inflate our sense of self, both as an individual and as a member of the human race. We humans think we are the centre of the universe and our current discussion about environmentalism is a reflection of this - our concerns are really about humanity's survival not nature itself. Nature will continue without us!

When speaking with Julieanna, she suggested I experiment more with the materiality of the material and described the process of grinding rocks into jaggered edges to be used in road making. My inner response was why put human marks onto rocks that already hold the marks of millions of years of weathering and geological process? It was a similar response I had to Kate Newby's self-described process of 'antagonising' the building and her treatment of materials. It seems a process which gives more importance to the human interaction with a material rather than the material itself. Respecting the material and honouring its essence is a critical part of my art practice. [I explained my artwork with the rocks was trying to speak to the gradual weathering of the material but I wonder now if I had continued spreading out the material and broken away from the rigid lines if this would have been more evocative?]

What is important to me, is the existentialism of life and those moments of being fully awake to the senses and connected to what is around you. The idea of agency within the context of impermanence is provocative. I feel existentialism is best expressed and experienced through the arts and beautifully realised in Japanese artistic practices. Culture, symbolism and an appreciation of the agency within all living and non-living forms are important to me and my aesthetic is one of striving for simplicity.

These ideas will influence my work in the next half of this semester and include a delving into the philosophy of existentialism.



Continuing with stitching the grid, now 15x23 (oops not a prime number), 13x23 and 11x23 and working on 23x23


After the Easter break (week 7) we need to bring 1-3 questions/observations specifically relating to the texts, and write a 250-500 word response to any of the texts (singly or in combination).

Anaīs Nin, The Diary of Anaīs Nin, Volume 5, 1947-1955 (NY: HBJ, 1975) pp. 72-77.

Eve Babitz, Eve’s Hollywood (NY: New York Review Book, 2015, orig. pub. 1974) pp. 1-18.

David Sedaris, Theft by Finding, Diaries Volume One (NY: Little Brown, 2017; 1985, pp. 120-29).

Rachel Herman on her experience confronting the COVID-19 virus, published in QUARANZINE (


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