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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Socially engaging with others

Since understanding that my thesis needs to expand beyond my own embodiment with the forest and include others embodiment, the process seems to have taken a life of its own; the germ of an idea is spreading and sprouting.

This need to open the thesis up to others embodiment came about in response to the forest's generosity to share itself with other beings, an idea expressed in Robin Kimmerer's book. It also resonates with the collective nature of the forest where the trees work co-operatively to grow within their ecosystem and the forest community. It is a pluriversal context that is too important not to incorporate into my thesis.

So, I've changed my thesis title to Between the Forest, the Trees, and Us. It feels right. My idea is to engage the communities living along the border of the forest - Eastbourne, Waiwhetu and Wainuiomata, and Roopu Tiaki who hold kaitiakitaunga, working closely with WWC and DOC to look to the overall health of the land.

I have made contact with Vince Robertson from Ropu Tiaki who suggested I approach Teri Puketapu from Waiwhetu Marae who was an original members of the Rope. Waiwhetu have a long association with the forest and lakes and hold the keys for the gate. I am hoping to do this.

I have also made contact with Eastbourne locals who have been very involved in nurturing the forest. I was very fortunate to talk with Ray Smith about what the forest meant to him and his experiences as a forest ranger during 1970-1990. His insights and comments quite moved me and got me thinking that other residents might also have something to share, hence the idea of a combined publication of many people's stories.

And I have made contact with Gary James from Wainuiomata Natural Heritage Association.

This is the questionnaire that has emerged which I hope to invite community members to engage with -

EHRP Invite to Participate
Download DOCX • 51KB

...and these are the questions asked -

  1. What does the northern forest of East Harbour Regional Park mean to you? What are your earliest memories of being in the forest? Your association and interaction with it?

  2. What has the forest given you? What have you learned from the forest and its trees?

  3. Where is your favourite place in the park? How do you feel in this space? What do the trees bring to your experience of being here?

  4. Do you think the trees feel your presence? If so, what do you think the trees feel towards you?

  5. What do you hope for the future of this forest?

  6. Do you associate a line of prose or waiata with this space? If so, please name the it


I have posted a request on Eastbourne Community and Wainuiomata Community Facebook pages in the hope of attracting participants as MIRO felt it inappropriate to place on their community page - fingers crossed!

Sadly the Eastbourne branch of MIRO (Mainland Island Restoration Organisation) declined my request to promote the questionnaire on their Facebook page so I will see what comes about from the two community posts and try to connect directly with MIRO members.

Socially engaging with others is complicated and needs clear communication about intent and expectations. Trust is vital between all parties... This is an email to Mike after trying to understand what an MFA exegesis is -

18/05/2022 Hi Suzy, Happy to be given an excuse to rant on a bit about such a delight. I had thought, and so reacted on the basis, that an exegesis was a personal explanation and treatise on a religious idea or text. And, being personal, others should not push their opinions into it. So I considered that maybe it was an analogy type approach you were using for your thesis; with you after some thoughts on why older locals had an, almost religious, devotion to our local bush. I have thoroughly enjoyed thinking about your questions, would be happy to come back with thoughts on any related issues, and look forward to reading more of your document as it develops. Cheers, Mick

25/05/22 Kia ora Suzy,

My sincerest apologies for this delayed response. Things have been busy lately!

Your form looks good.

I am not certain what to say about your participant Mick’s point of view around the project. As for “pushing their thoughts into your exegesis” isn’t that exactly what participatory work tends to do, incorporate the thoughts and actions of others into some form of dialogical interaction? The issue of religion emerges I imagine because a common use of the term is in analysing Biblical texts “to explain” them. But this is a misreading of what exegetical writing in the academic situation is, which is different than that, and indeed, often doesn’t necessarily “explain” but as we often note as supervisors, could also incorporate reflective or poetic or descriptive writing in parallel with and complementary to the artwork.

And as your document makes clear you are collating material from residents, but making a book in this way may not align with some people’s notion of what an art project is, which might make this ambiguous for some. I might suggest option of people contributing their thoughts anonymously or under a pseudonym in case that might help them feel more secure about their contribution. Also they should be allowed ability to opt out at any point. So you could add one more question along that line in the form, but your existing ones in which people can opt in and opt out at the outset cover that for the most part.

Happy to discuss further if desired,

Kindest regards,



Hi Mike, Phil, Colin, Alan and Anne,

Gosh Mike your last email has made me reflect on what an exegesis is - it was quite thought provoking and I felt my response inadequate so here is a more considered response which I hope explains more clearly my intentions with the combined publication of other's stories. I've included the other possum hunters in this email too incase they are interested...

I think a fine arts exegesis is quite different from the idea of it being a personal explanation and a treatise on a religious idea or text. The MFA asks us to describe (but not necessarily explain) the ideas and processes embedded in our artworks and art practice, i.e. it is a written text 'complementary to, and in parallel with, the artworks'.

For example, this image is one of my artworks for Between the forest, the trees, and us. During the summer afternoons I drew snippets of the forest's canopy as seen from each bus stop between the terminal and Pt Howard. These discrete drawings reflect the way we experience our embodiment in time and space - the brain subconsciously connecting and nesting our experiences of isolated fractal patterns [1]. Additionally, through the process of drawing I observed the forest's trees for over 15 hours as they interacted with the sunlight; shimmering and spreading the light across the canopy. these were sublime moments for me, being with the trees as they photosynthesised. Phillip Feynman describes trees as growing out of the air, and this was what it felt like to me.

And this artwork is from another series attempting to describe what is occurring between the trees and the sunlight !!

My exegesis invites others to share their experience with the forest and this is an important aspect of contemporary art; it is a form of engaging others in a dialogical interaction and offers a view of the world that is 'pluriversal' (new term for me!). While the question of trees as entities in their own right (and possibly with feelings?) is provocative, I am interested in our collective opinions and will be circumspect in offering any interpretation other than how important green spaces are to humans. There is a wonderful book in the Eastbourne library explaining just this; Mencagli, Marco, and Marco Nieri. The Secret Therapy of Trees: Harness the Healing Energy of Forest Bathing and Natural Landscapes. I think you might enjoy it!

I hope this addresses any concerns you and others may feel in sharing your experiences with the forest of Eastbourne? I am very appreciative of others enthusiasm for the project and if you feel other MIRO members may be interested in being involved then please invite them also.

Ngaa mihi, Suzy [1]. [Laroche, J. (.1,2 )., et al. “Embodiment of Intersubjective Time: Relational Dynamics as Attractors in the Temporal Coordination of Interpersonal Behaviors and Experiences.”].


Hi Suzy,

Thank you for your detailed clarification. It makes sense. Not being involved in the religious or academic worlds now I fear my initial response was rather dated and linear.

Hence whilst in Auckland this week (to attend the Governor General’s MNZM Investiture Ceremony to my daughter {parent’s privilege to skite!}) I had interesting discussions with my son-in-law on the current interpretation of an exegesis. He is just changing careers from the commercial world to the pastoral. He did a post-grad degree in Chaplaincy last year, and is doing his Masters this year; so was keen to talk on exegeses. A point he raised was the inherent value of inclusion of the concept of personification of the subject. I think your approach works wonderfully with this.

Cheers, Mike


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