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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 1, 24-28 Feb 2020

This is my digital workbook for a Post Graduate diploma in fine arts at Massey University. I'm more used to a handwritten version but lets see how this transpires, given that Covid-19 has changed the world.

So, week one is about preparing materials, thinking about my (IPO) Independent Project Outline and settling into our Ropu with mentors Shannon Te Ao and Richard Reddaway.


This year I have decided to use natural materials sourced from my local environment in Eastbourne. I have collected the materials during the summer months, so their narrative is seasonal, environmental and ecological. Additionally they are matter that has been discarded and as detritus they hold a low value and status.

First, I collected pōhutukawa stamen from two groupings of trees nearby. I love the red carpet appearing under the pōhutukawa at Christmas time and throughout the summer. I swept all the matter under the tree into a bag and then sorted it into one pile of red stamens and other of the remaining leaves and stems. This process was akin to sorting fleece and by handling the material I appreciated the variety of stamen (short, long and fuzzy lengths of varying shades of red) and the strong stigma and style that had captured and transported pollen to the ovary. As the pile of stamen grew it appeared to felt together which seemed an interesting property to explore and the high floral scent from the flowers filled the house!

My second material collected was pōhutukawa wood from two felled trees that had been planted over 80 years ago to frame the St Albans Anglican church in Eastbourne (round the corner from where I live). The trees were chopped down because the roots were damaging drains and the crematory wall however many locals were deeply upset by the trees removal.

The pōhutukawa wood was sorted and good pieces given to wood-turners to make crosses for the parishioners and other items!! The remainder was axed for locals to use as firewood. I collected pieces to use but at this stage I was unsure what I would create. Pohutukawa is a hard wood that is knotty and prone to rot so is not considered a good wood for construction.

The church has been closed since the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake due to damage sustained and the parish now convenes at Wellesley College hall in Days Bay.

My third material is discarded cicada shells sourced from the beech forest nearby and people's gardens (a number of locals responded to my request on the community facebook page).

Cicadas te reo name is kihikihi wawa (to roar like the sound of rain). The majority of shells collected were the large chorus cicada (Amphipsalta zelandica), however there were several smaller species collected too. The chorus cicada is endemic to NZ and is one of 42 species and subspecies in Aotearoa. They are part of the Hemiptera order of insects with piercing and sucking mouths.

For me, the sound of cicadas singing is the song of summer.

The fourth material collected is hare's tail grass or bunny tails that grow prolifically along Muritai beach (just down the road). Its Latin name is Lagurus ovatus and it is an old world grass indigenous to the Mediterranean. The grass family is one of the most widely distributed and abundant groups of plants on Earth.

The bunny tail is considered an escaped weed that has invaded coastal sand dunes throughout NZ. I have fond summer memories from my childhood leaving the stalks in food colouring to dye the flower head.

2. INDEPENDENT PROJECT OUTLINE Some ideas for the IPO due week 3.

Focus - what is my research question? what are my interests, what will the art be about? Maybe the idea of new materialism and vital matter could be the direction of my art practice this year? Could I also incorporate ecological considerations for humanity and the planet's ecosystem into the research question?

I approached Craig the librarian at Massey University to learn how to search articles online and find appropriate academic articles on new materialism. He was invaluable in helping me source good articles (more on this in week 2).

Background - what did I last develop? Themes were (i)materiality and process, (ii)using discarded material (i.e. cardboard boxes, wrapping paper and plastic cups) that held a narrative of consumption, consumerism and a low value, (iii)aesthetic of formalism and constructivism. Below are examples of some of my work from last year.


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