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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 2, 2-6 March 2020

Work in the second week at Massey includes understanding more about the materials I have collected, researching articles for my Independent Project Outline (IPO), plus a discussion with my mentor Richard Reddaway.


(i) Pōhutukawa stamen

Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros Excelsa) belongs to the Myrtaceae, or myrtle, family and is endemic to northern NZ coastlines. Pōhutukawa means 'sprinkled with spray' and the trees planted in Eastbourne during the early 1930s are testament to how well suited they are to coastal environments. Pōhutukawa are a sacred tree to Maori.

Pōhutukawa is a mass-flowering tree with compound inflorescences that develop over a period of 10 weeks and flowers over a peak period of 2 weeks. Flowers are pollinated by native birds, native NZ bees, geckos and bats. Introduced honeybees have largely replaced the native pollinators and as each flower produces approx 46μL nectar per day, the flowers are an attractive source for honey production (the honey we collect from our bees is delicious). Honeybees prefer flowers with short stamen and effect more self pollination than birds.

A study on the reproduction of pōhutukawa by Adam Schmidt and Julia Gabriele Hedwig at Auckland University, found that pōhutukawa are able to self-pollinate (geitonogamy) but "a combination of outcrossing (predominantly by bird pollinators), self-incompatibility and inbreeding depression act to maintain heterozygosity and result in the production of sufficient offspring that will ensure the survival of the species". The seeds drop during April and only 10% of pōhutukawa seed is fertile. (

A 1980s study by Forest Research Institute found there only 197 pōhutukawa stands remaining from East Cape to Kawhia. Northland stands were in the poorest condition with 80% classed as old or mature and only 27 stands of young trees. The stands had been decimated by possum, human abuse, an inability to germinate among toxic weeds and inadequate nutrition and rain. Project Crimson Trust was established in 1990 and with sponsorship from Carter Holt Harvey the Trust embarked on a mass planting of 40,000-50,000 pōhutukawa trees.

Works above show piles of sorted pōhutukawa collected, felted stamens into a box shape and a pile showing the tonal range of red.

Sources for researching pōhutukawa are -

(ii) Cicada Cicada go through five stages called instars beginning life as a nymph that lives 40cm underground. The nymph molts 4 times during its 3-5 years living underground, feeding on sap from plant roots. Prior to its fifth instar molt, the cicada emerges from the ground and molts to become the cicada we know. Only male cicada sing, using 2 tymbal that they contract rapidly to create the loud sound that we associate with summer. There are several species endemic to NZ but cicada exist in warmer areas throughout the world.


With help from Craig, the librarian at Massey University, I narrowed down my research topic for the IPO. Given how embedded materiality and process is in my art practice, he suggested I investigate New Materialism which is a contemporary theory influencing artists of today. The fundamental concepts of vibrant matter and distributive power inherent in New Materialism appealed to me even though I was unsure what this really meant. Together we selected about 10-12 academic articles for me to read and use as the basis of my assignment for Fine Arts Research Seminar.

Selected articles which I have annotated and placed in order of importance are -

1. Hood, Emily and Amelia M. Kraehe. “Creative Matter: New Materialism in Art Education Research, Teaching, and Learning.” Art Education, vol. 70, no. 2, Mar. 2017, pp. 32–38. Hood and Kraehe investigate how using the principles of “thing-power” and “distributive agency”, embedded in new materialism, can redefine art education practice as a research based methodology. (This is a good introduction to New Materialism and our role as artists of being with things in a contemplative and imaginative manner.)

2. Ingold, Tim. “Bringing Things to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials.” Realities, Working Paper #15, 2010/07/20. Ingold challenges Aristotle’s hylomorphic model of creation (i.e. creation occuring when form and matter are brought together) by arguing form is not a discrete, finite object but rather a leaking thing that meshes and entangles with other leaking things. He describes a new creation ontology, haecceity, that focuses on processes of formation to bring things to Life by following the fluxes and flows of material. (I loved this article - it really gave me a handle on things and their thinging and how we are invited to participate in that thinging.)

3. Jonathan Basile. Life/Force: Novelty and New Materialism in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter. Vol. 48, no. 2, 2019, pp. 3–22. Basile challenges how novel the theory of New Materialism is, given its underlying concept of matter as free and lively is merely in opposition to constructivism’s assertion that matter is inert and passive. (This article provided a counter-argument that I had not considered which is important when critiquing an idea)

4. Amelia Jones. Material Traces: Performativity, Artistic “Work,” and New Concepts of Agency. Vol. 59, no. 4, 2015, pp. 18–35. By investigating contemporary performative artworks, Jones challenges the belief new materialism places us beyond human (posthuman), proposing instead that the artist’s labour with materialities, and the imprints made visible, activate a greater connectedness and relationship with matter. (This article helped place New Materialism in the artworld by describing artists and their work.)

5. Karen Barad. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs, vol. 28, no. 3, 2003, p. 801.

Barad argues performativity, which focuses on intra-active participation between materials, offers a posthumanist theory to challenge the social constructivist ontological of matter as inert and passive. By rethinking the agency and vitality of all materiality, and the indefinite nature of boundaries, Barad challenges humanity’s anthropocentric social construct to diffract and become more inclusive of feminist and queer theories. (Barad is a physicist so offers a new insight into materialism and matter. She described the concept of diffraction simply)

6. Ravisankar, Ramya. "Artmaking as Entanglement: Expanded notions of artmaking through new materialism." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2019. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 01 Mar 2020. Ravisankar proposes new materiality offers an opportunity to reconceptualise the role of matter, material, and materiality in artmaking practices and philosophical inquiries. He suggests the notion of flux is at the heart of materiality, and the artmaking process. (I really enjoyed this dissertation - he summaries others ideas clearly and describes how diffraction has enhanced his art practice)

7. Effe, Alexandra. “Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 56, no. 1, Feb. 2020, pp. 97–109.

Effe analyses Krog’s political poem, Country of My Skull, through a cognitive-formalist scientific approach, to understand how the formal, aesthetic dimensions of postcolonial literature act as agents for social transformation by unlocking patterns of thought and feelings in the reader. Critical issues of the ethics of empathy and truth are discussed. (This was a bit of a sideline for me.)

8. Garber, Elizabeth. “Objects and New Materialisms: A Journey across Making and Living with Objects.” Studies in Art Education: A Journal of Issues and Research in Art Education, vol. 60, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 7–21. Garber shares how new materialism has transformed her art practice, created new knowledge systems based on an awareness of all matter possessing animacy, and altered her way of living.

9. Harari, Yuval Noah. “Human History Will End When Men Become Gods.” NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 4, Oct. 2019, pp. 6–13. In this interview, Harari expands on his idea that the underlying ideology of humanity is changing from one of humanism into dataism, which will herald the evolution of a new God-like species i.e. artificial intelligence.

10. Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” Information Society, vol. 27, no. 4, July 2011, pp. 252–260. Ratto provides a summary of experiments designed to illustrate the importance of connecting lived experience, through the process of making, to conceptual knowledge in order to reconnect society and technology.

11. Stubbe, J. “Material Practice as a Form of Critique.” Interaction Design and Architecture(S), vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 30–46. Stubbe discusses how the process of “making” and haptic engagement with physical materials offers an opportunity to critique established modes of cognitive forms of knowledge.

12. Thomson, Jody, and Sheridan Linnell. “Enchanted Encounters with the Liveliness of Matter and Art Forcing Thought.” Emotion, Space and Society, vol. 35, May 2020. Using the theory of new materialism and the liveliness of matter, Thompson and Linnell re-examine the value of performative artmaking for those encountering death, and how it might change thought in unexpected ways.

3. DISCUSSION WITH RICHARD REDDAWAY - Getting to know each other

- Discussed last years artworks and why I felt that branding interrupted the reading of the work

- Richard discussed formalism and said he liked the earlier 2019 work more than the 2nd semester works.

- He suggested works need dissonance to linger with the viewer (Jessica Storehouse's works are beautiful but what does it mean...too satisfying)

- Maybe investigations this year might lead to a clarity of asthetics for me and a breaking out of coherence

- Artist to view Derrick Cherrie and Luke ? (exhibits at Ivan Anthony or Micheal Let gallery in Auckland).


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