• Suzy Costello, workbooks

MFA Easter break, 6-12th April 2021

Updated: 2 days ago

Designing art for series on stitching on tissue paper, Researching Culture and my Whakapapa.


(i) Conceptual Theme

The conceptual theme for the series The Space Between Us explores how culture binds us together.

The nature of stitching involves weaving one thread over another and is symbolic of the binding together of people. Stitching is a shared craft between people (especially women) all around the world and within their homes. This lends an authenticity to the project, as culture also is learnt within the home. Materials used will be viscose thread and transparent tissue paper or washi paper (yet to decide). The process will extend the earlier grid stitching I did in the first half of the semester.

In his essay Cultural Definition, Vedin analyses three features of culture: "the world of culture as a social reality, the content of world of culture as a system of social values, and the realization of world culture in human activities".

(ii) Prime numbers

Each culture holds a uniqueness particular to it. The shared social values and social realities within a culture bind together a group of people within a context of larger composite group of peoples. This cultural uniqueness, of being the only one of its kind, is analogous with prime numbers i.e. a number that is divisible only by itself and 1.

I would like to include prime numbers in the art project to symbolise and celebrate the uniqueness of each culture and the value to humanity of having many world views.

Prime numbers between 1-100:

Wikipedia - "A prime number is a natural number greater than 1 that is not a product of two smaller natural numbers. A natural number greater than 1 that is not prime is called a composite number. For example, 5 is prime because the only ways of writing it as a product, 1 × 5 or 5 × 1, involve 5 itself."

There are lots of theorems on prime numbers that are complex and over my head but are discussed on the Wikipedia page. Below are some examples illustrating the illusive patterns within the series of prime numbers. The first is a diagram of the Green–Tao theorem that shows there are 'arbitrarily long finite arithmetic progressions consisting only of primes'.

Green-Tao Theorem, Wikipedia -

The second and third images are the Ulam spiral, constructed by writing the positive integers in a square spiral and marking the prime numbers. When this pattern is continued into infinity, diagonal columns of prime number clusters appear!! I am hoping this randomness may encourage chance variations in the stitching patterns.

Ulam (prime) Spiral, Wikipedia -

(iii) Colour Palette

I will remain with the shades of indigo to light blue, and include a blush pink and yellow to represent the moments of dawn and dusk. I would like the thread to drape down from the artwork and scrumble on the floor in a symphony of colour, enveloping people in its iridescent beauty! My justification for this colour scheme? that humanity's myriad of different cultural worldviews are seeded within the shared space of the Earth's troposphere.

These are the colours I have selected from the Textile Design embroidery threads (L-R): #1643,1243,1166,1843, 1642, 1176, 1029, 1674, 1219, 1260, 1818

(iv) Composition

I will use either acid free tissue paper or fine washi paper because of their transparency (is there a harakeke paper fine enough? or Irish linen?). Paper orientation will be landscape, a subtle nod to Geoff Park's essay on pictorial landscapes, which references site. There will be reference to the grid (punctured holes), horizon line (as in Kelcy Taratoa's work) and exploration of pattern making discussed in Brett Graham's work. It all seems like I am making it very complex and adding too many references in the work but hope they are simple underlying concepts that don't clutter the art.

(v) Installation

I imagine the works hanging from the ceiling in such a way that people need to navigate their way around them (almost like a maze). This activation of the space (between each other, the works and the site) is an enactment of culture as a living breathing entity that binds people together.


Authenticity is an important tenet of existentialism, and requires me to examine and understand what my own culture is. This is important to me because as a child arriving in New Zealand, I felt a sense of diaspora (scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland). Today as an adult I feel a sense of confusion in my identity as pakeha, rather than kiwi, living in Aotearoa.

My mother was born and raised in County Clare, Ireland and my father was a 'kiwi' who met my mum in England when he transferred to the British Air Force. On his father's side he was 2nd generation kiwi of Irish descent, and on his mother's side he was 5th generation kiwi of English descent.

I was born in England, lived in Singapore for 2 years (aged 3-5) when dad was transferred to Tengah Air Base, and then moved to New Zealand in 1965. Like all military families, my 2 siblings and I moved around a lot, going to 6-7 different schools in three different regions of New Zealand (Christchurch, Rotorua and Auckland) and Singapore. Because my mother was Irish through and through, I felt a sympathy with her deep longing to return 'home' and considered myself uprooted from the northern hemisphere. Years later while travelling through Europe I found myself seeking out people dressed in shorts and jandals! By then, I guess I was a kiwi.

This pdf details my whakapapa. In an effort to understand why my ancestors came to Aotearoa New Zealand I've overlaid historical events onto the dates when my ancestors arrived here.

Download PDF • 61KB


I've arranged an appointment with Craig at Massey library next week to research the following threads (pun intended!) -

  1. being pakeha within a Maori worldview

  2. geometric patterns in art making

  3. agency

  4. site and memory.

Mitcalfe, Margaret Ann. Understandings of Being Pakeha : Exploring the Perspectives of Six Pakeha Who Have Studied in Maori Cultural Learning Contexts : A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Management, Communication Management, at Massey University, Turitea Campus, Aotearoa-New Zealand. Massey University, 2008. EBSCOhost,

Mikaere, Piritihana. Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand : Understanding the Culture, Protocols and Customs. New Holland, 2013. EBSCOhost,

5.Artist using thread

Chiharu Shiota

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