An essay written by Gina Matchett on Īnakinaki, an exhibition of current works by Wi Taepa and Kirstin O'Sullivan Peren which is on display in WHAKAARI from 26 January - 1 April 2024.
An exhibition of current works by Wi Taepa and Kristin O’Sullivan Peren. Their diverse practices of uku, printmaking and digital light coding intersect in Īnakinaki. Both artists consider whenua/landscape, whakapapa/genealogy and the narratives explored through the making process. The artists’ paths professionally crossed in the 1990s at Whitireia Polytechnic in Porirua. Kaiako and tauira identified with each other’s creative processes taught within local wānanga-based education for rangatahi. Īnakinaki means to cover with overlapping layers and reflects the ‘layering’ of the artists’ kaupapa and whakairo.
Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa
Wi Taepa’s practice has spanned more than four decades across mediums such as whakairo rākau (wood carving), kōwhaiwhai (painted koru patterns) and uku (clay). During the 1980s he established himself as a contemporary Māori clay practitioner and is one of the founding members of Ngā Kaihanga Uku Māori clay collective. His work is a confluence of pattern and mark making surface decoration on uku. Taepa often utilises the visual language of whakairo and kōwhaiwhai to present narratives - customary and contemporary, urban and suburban. Referencing the whakapapa kōrero of rock and stone, Taepa’s work is imbued with the cosmologies of atua wāhine - primarily Hineukurangi the goddess of clay.
Kristin O’Sullivan Peren
As a multimedia visual artist Kristin O’Sullivan Peren works across printmaking, sculpture, photography and three dimensional digital light sculptures. Her practice explores issues related to the effects of colonialism and climate change on the landscape. These works reinforce the interconnectedness of land, light and water. Researching buried narratives, Kristin often unearths hidden histories - rendering the invisible visible. The artist’s use of alternative materials and experimentation with photography and light coding techniques expand the boundaries of traditional printmaking. These kaupapa and processes are developed further to produce sculptural light works.
“To be an artist in a customary Māori sense is to be responsible for communication, mātauranga, spiritual, cultural, and genealogical knowledge to the community.” 1
From a young age, Wi Taepa has been characterised by terms like ‘tutū fingers’ and possessing a ‘Maui complex’ as he embarked on his artistic journey as a master uku maker and self-taught carver.
From a Te Ao Māori perspective, these inherent traits characterise him as a risk-taker, forever curious, with tutū-tinkering hands, constantly making and challenging. As an adult, skills learned combined with cultural thinking and life experience have shaped his practice. Essentially, Wi is an object maker who extends the boundaries of clay practice which is deeply imbued in Te Ao Māori.
Raised in urban Waiwhetu, within a creative and religious whānau, Wi's exposure to various arts, including whakairo, began early. Surrounded by his Te Ati Awa whānau he recalls playing with other kids on a clay mound at Waiwhetu making objects and figures. In 1950, when his father became the Reverend Canon for Rangiatea church in Otaki, his father Hohepa, invited Wi’s Uncle Taunu to carve the pulpit at Rangiatea church. Carrying on the legacy of the carving traditions of Ngati Whakaue, the work was quite revolutionary at the time, combining figurative Māori carvings within Christian architecture. This enriched Wi's understanding of whakairo outside of the wharenui.
Later, working as a window dresser for the D I C department store for 3 years, Wi learnt many skills about making, scale and composition, before two years of service in Vietnam.
During the 1970s, Wi's experiences as a Vietnam War veteran and subsequent employment at Rimutaka Prison, influenced his artistic perspective. His knowledge of tikanga and toi Māori became a valuable asset in guiding and connecting Māori inmates to their culture within the prison's confined environment. This led to the creation of a marae-like nurturing inside the prison, fostering a sense of community, enabling the Māori inmates to reconnect to Te Aō Māori and engage in transformative and rehabilitative artistic projects.
Wi's contribution along with others, such as Jock McKewen and Ralph Love, extended beyond the prison. The inmates were escorted to a whare whakairo in the hills above Petone. They were supervised on notable carving projects such as Orongomai meeting house in Upper Hutt, as well as carving pou for the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. Numerous other carving projects were completed by the inmates for Rotorua, Taita, Naenae, and Waiouru Military Camp.
During the mid 1980s, employment as a social worker further extended his understanding of the ways in which Māori art can uplift and imbue mana. When working at the Kohitere Boys Home in Levin, wood carving was off the table. Sharp carving tools and the high cost of wood were the main obstacles. Within these parameters Wi began his exploration of clay. He found his students could work quickly and have completed a project by the end of the day.
"Clay offered a welcome level of freedom compared with carving." 2
Uku provided his young students with a malleable and recyclable medium to express their creative process. This shift allowed him to develop and refine clay processes within Toi Māori concepts such as atua wahine and mātauranga Māori.
…."while my work sustains cultural aspects of Aotearoa, there lies within it an even stronger connection to the female elements in Māori genealogy, where Hineukurangi (the clay Maiden) is a descendant of Parawhenuamea, (maiden of the rocks). We are all connected and sustained by Papatūānuku; we thrive off her. She is where we begin and where we end.” 3
The artist’s interest in working with clay grew to such an extent that he enrolled in a certificate of craft design at Whitireia Polytechnic in Porirua, after the closure of the Kohitere boys home. This decision marked a significant turning point in his artistic journey. During his time at Whitireia, Wi was influenced by several artists, including Robyn Stewart, Manos Nathan, and George Kojis. These artists played a crucial role in developing Wi's artistic perspective and growing his passion for clay.
This was around the same time as Ngā Kaihanga Uku - tokorima (the five fingers) was formed. Wi was a founding member along with Manos Nathan, Baye Riddell, Paerau Corneal and Colleen Waata Urlich. This small but influential band of uku artists supported each other's projects and have had a lasting legacy teaching and supporting younger uku artists from the 1990s to the present.
After graduating in 1992, Wi began working full-time as a teacher at Whitireia while concurrently developing his clay practice. At Whitireia, George Kojis encouraged Wi to participate in a workshop with international clay artists via Ngā Kaihanga Uku, and Toi Māori. This exposure to different artists and experiences expanded Wi’s practice and fostered opportunities for national and international exhibitions. These projects made connections with international indigenous clay artists and solidified uku as a Māori medium in Aotearoa.
Under the influence of New Zealand ceramicists, the artist’s earlier works used the potter's wheel and surfaces were burnished to a sheen. However, the wheel left him unsatisfied.
Wi then began to construct hand-built forms made with coils and slabs, to produce more organic forms. Surfaces were incised exploring patterns, notches and lines of early Polynesian design. These patterns reference the Lapita pottery traditions of Samoa. Repetitive marks were made with rudimentary tools like sticks or steel nails. Household objects were also engaged, like the imprint of an egg slicer to create patterns that imitate fabric texture.
For Wi, these surface treatments made deeper connections between Māori and Lapita traditions.
“The hybridised navigational imagery employed by indigenous cultures across the Pacific particularly on the Lapita pottery becomes merged with military wayfinding maps that we used during our Vietnam campaign. For me they connect the migrations of Māori ancestors across Asia, Pacific and to Aotearoa as well as my own journey as a soldier and my own experience making these ancestral connections.” 4
The Raranga Cross Hatching Series
This series emulated the texture of harakeke weaving. This cross hatching effect gives the appearance of directional weaving with harakeke (flax) either from kete, or the scraping of the epidermisto expose muka (flax fibre). The intricate and precise techniques of raranga are integrated with contemporary uku practice. This surface treatment was also utilised in bronze cast works, interrupting the solidity and coldness of bronze.
The round full forms in this series have a direct connection to kai, urban māra, and mound making for kūmara planting. The carved surface decoration was inspired by the painted cityscapes of Robert Ellis. Wi created abstract map forms using the visual language of kōwhaiwhai and whakairo to represent the rapid urban change of mid-century Aotearoa. The works were a bird's eye view of the suburban landscapes where koru and pitau forms represent streets, car parks and cul-de-sacs. Through these fertile forms, the artist blends Māori techniques and pattern making, to map the interconnectedness of spaces and the urban world of Te Ao Pākehā.
A Meeting of Creatives
While still a student at Whitireia Polytechnic, Porirua, Wi met Kristin who was teaching printing at the institution. At the time Kristin taught six week printing courses to justice programme first offenders as part of a diversion programme.
The students were mostly Māori and Pasifika teenagers who had been failed by the education system and/or had learning disabilities. From her own education experience, Kristin wanted to offer a positive learning environment and inspire the students by printmaking. She made embossed prints with the students by building up relief on the plates with card, string and PVA glue in an environment where no sharp tools were permitted. This meant the students got a quick result and an instant buzz of achievement in completing a print. Being curious, Wi observed how the printing press was integral and could add or subtract elements to a composition.
Kristin recalls that while the students were working on prints;
“Wi would come and sit in the space, watching what the students were up to. He was great to have as a solid male role model asking the students questions, making suggestions, and initiating discussions as a mentor.” 5
He would carve wood blocks with his own tools, showing the range of possibilities to the students.
“I would waltz in and waltz out and say try this or try that.” 6
Many of the students from these programmes would return to do the foundation course at Whitireia. They would progress their printmaking to the next level using tools to carve woodblocks, while other students would incorporate printing into media such as jewellery and fashion.
“I am not an urban artist, I have deep connections with the land………” 7
The Rotorua environment of thermal activity and Māori tourism influenced Kristin’s creative thinking growing up. There were frequent trips to the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Whakarewarewa (now Te Puea) watching the carvers at the carving school. Grattan, her father, was a lawyer and provided legal representation for the Institute. As a child she stated her desire to become a carver. However, growing older she realised this was an unrealistic path, but began carving her own woodblocks and making prints during school art. At secondary school Kristin made a print poster that won a competition for supporting the protest of Treaty rights. However, periods of ill health as a teenager, led her to spend time living with her grandfather at Hinemoa Point in Rotorua. As she spent time off school recuperating, she became a prolific drawer.
In the 1980s, she also remembers her father representing iwi against the Rotorua Council to stop residents drilling bores and extracting thermal water from the geothermal field. Years of drawing off hot water for heating was depleting the Rotorua geothermal reservoir and damaging local geysers, affecting tourist-centred livelihoods at Whakarewarewa. Since 1991 geothermal extraction has been managed to protect surface geothermal activity. Observing this interconnectedness of land and water began for Kristin, a lifelong fascination with the environment.
Early family trips to Luggate connected the artist to the landscape of Te Waipounamu, particularly Central Otago and Gibbston. Later, as an adult this connection was consolidated when she moved to Gibbston, Takiri te Ata with her young family.
During the 1980s and 1990s Kristin worked with John Drawbridge at the Print Studio at Wellington City Art Gallery as an art educator. As her mentor, John Drawbridge encouraged her printing practice. During this time she refined the printing process by developing a distinct practice of fluid gestural marks and mono prints. The themes of excessive farming practices and advocating for sustainability were central to the print series Islands and The Irish. As the decade played out Kristin continued making and taught at Inverlochy Art School, and then Visual Communication Design at Massey University.
“I have done and respect those who continue to produce polished prints of fine lines and aquatints. But my choice is for expressive, gestural marks and the immediacy of the monoprint.” 8
As her practice progressed Kristin's exploration of light processes, coded reflections and photography, allowed her to experiment with non-traditional print development and interpretation. Her most recent prints involve an innovative process using muka paste in place of an ink based softground. To make this preparation, the muka (flax fibre) is first boiled, reduced and then pounded. The muka paste becomes an integral part of the etching process.
This allows Kristin to draw directly onto the plate, utilising the natural response of muka compound which differs significantly from typical soft ground. The use of muka captures fibre that leaves marks on the plate and creates layers of texture and depth in the printing process, exploding gestural movement.
During the 2000s Kristin extended her practice into sculptural forms such as Islands, and Poplars. The works Free Beauties and Rubbish Legium, turned waste into sculpture via a specifically developed process with light coding and photography. A significant local Queenstown public sculpture Papakura (2005-2007) was made for the Queenstown Events Centre in Tāhuna. Papakura honours the Aurora Australis natural light display, predominantly seen at high latitudes, particularly in southern Te Waipounamu. Dynamic pulsing patterns of light such as flickers, rays and curtains are a result of charged particles and solar wind disturbances in the magnetosphere. Papakura was the ambitious visible evocation of electromagnetic radiation light frequencies, constructed of epoxy resin and programmed LEDs.
“My father was an avid tramper and a great storyteller. He’d seen the Aurora Australis in Fiordland on the Kepler track and he re-created the light in my head. But the night Papakura was installed, just as my daughter and I were packing up we turned and looked across Lake Whakatipu. There on the horizon, we saw the Aurora Australis - the original. It was a surreal moment, a fusion of the origins and Papakura.” 9
Kristin adds to her printmaking techniques and designs by incorporating silica, salt, harakeke, light coding and photography into her process.
Cloud 23 begins with building a still life using silica. The silica is sourced from the Ohaaki geothermal field near Wairakei. This still life becomes the subject of her artwork, capturing reflections and interactions.
“The whenua around the Ohaaki geothermal field is where the colloidal silica was extracted. I added salt and harakeke to the mix to create moulds in the shapes of Ō-tū-kapua-rangi (fountain of the clouded sky) or the Pink Terrace. My breath which is captured and represented physically in the LED light code. The colloidal silica came from the Demonstration Plant at Geo40, Ohaaki Northern Plant. These methodologies are combined into a woven work that lies upon the whenua, clothing the whakapapa hidden below”. 10
Light machine coded to the artist’s breath (hā) is reflected off the silica. The reflection is then photographed and incorporates a myriad of geothermal colours. When the RGB (red, green, blue) colours converge, they create a mixed white light, resulting in a vibrant interplay of hues. This coding and manipulation of light makes the invisible visible. Timing and site are crucial to these works. Solar flashes and bursts appearing affect the colours which are sometimes more orange or pink. The outcome of the photograph depends on the time of day and the quality of light, resulting in varied visuals.
Photographed at Takiri ti Ata in the top paddocks, checking NASA reports for light and solar flares, the end result is a photograph which is then silk screened and ultimately colour matched, enlarged and woven into carpet. Pins of wool for the carpet are hand dyed to colour match the silk screen of the photograph of coded light. Kristin's use of alternative materials and her experimentation with light and coding techniques push the boundaries of traditional printmaking and extend to sculptural works. Her distinct artistic process demonstrates her ability to transform everyday and natural materials into complex layered artworks that connect to the landscape and uncover the hidden properties of whenua.
Īnakinaki highlights the artists’ unique backgrounds, creative processes, and recent collaborations. The collaborative prints build up layers of unknown space overlapping colour and images with a grounding in whenua.
From a kōwhaiwhai template used for clay carved by Wi, a screen print was created by Kristin. This was printed in a variety of ways and layered with solar colours. Both artists carve wood and have used art making to connect and uplift second chance learners. They also explore maps real and abstracted to research and reflect their kaupapa which are deeply connected to the whenua. Wi's journey from a self-taught carver to a prison officer-turned-uku artist demonstrates the transformative power of Māori art. Concurrently, Kristin's exploration of printing processes and coded reflections express innovative print and sculptural works. This īnakinaki or layering of concepts and processes acts as a mapping mechanism for orientation, a visual language to locate the artists in their physical, spiritual and cultural landscapes.
Gina Tawhai Matchitt, Te Arawa, Te Whakatōhea
Gina is a Māori artist and curator based in Pōneke Wellington.
Atua wāhine - female gods
Hā - breath
Īnakinaki - overlaying, crowding
Kai - food
Kaiako - teacher
Kaupapa - idea, concept
Kōrero - to say, to speak
Kōwhaiwhai - painted rafter patterns
Māra - garden
Mātauranga - knowledge
Muka - flax fibre
Papakura - red glow
Tauira - student
Te Ao Māori - the Māori world
Te Ao Pākehā - the European world
Te Waipounamu - the South Island
Tikanga - correct procedure, custom
Toi Māori - Māori art
Tutū - mischievous, disobedient, rebellious
Uku - clay
Wānanga - to meet, discuss, consider, seminar, conference
Whakairo - to ornament with a pattern, to carve
Whakairo - rakau wood carving
Whakapapa - genealogy
Whānau - family
Wharenui - meeting house
1 Wi Taepa, Wi Te Tau Pirika. Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa: Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Te Roro o Te Rangi Te Ati Awa; A Dissertation p16
2 Wi Taepa, Wi Te Tau Pirika. Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa: Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Te Roro o Te Rangi Te Ati Awa; A Dissertation
3 Huhana Smith (ed), Taiawhio II, contemporary Māori artists, 18 New Conversations, Te Papa Press, 2007, p255, Nigel Borell, Haere ki wiwī ki wawā: the Freedom to Explore, Wi Taepa Retrospect, 2018
4 Wi Taepa, Wi Te Tau Pirika. Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa: Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Te Roro o Te Rangi Te Ati Awa; A Dissertation p24
5 Personal Communication, 5 December 2023
6 Personal Communication, 13 December 2023
7 Dr Cassandra Fusco, ‘Illuminations - Kristin O’Sullivan Peren’ Te Kura Matatini ki Otago p1
8 Dr Cassandra Fusco, ‘Illuminations- Kristin O’Sullivan Peren’ Te Kura Matatini ki Otago p5
9 Dr Cassandra Fusco, ‘Illuminations- Kristin O’Sullivan Peren’ Te Kura Matatini ki Otago p4
10 Personal Communication, 5 December 2023
Borell, Nigel. (2018). Wi Taepa Retrospective: Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Pātaka Art + Museum.
Friend, Reuben. (Ed.) (2016). Wi Taepa Retrospect. Porirua, New Zealand: Pataka Museum.
Fusco, Dr Cassandra. (2012) Illuminations - Kristin O’Sullivan Peren, Otago Polytechnic Te Kura Matatini ki Otago.
Smith. Huhana.(ed), (2007). Taiawhio II, contemporary Māori artists, 18 New Conversations, Te Papa Press.
Taepa, Wi Te Tau Pirika. Wi Te Tau Pirika Taepa: Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Te Roro o Te Rangi Te AtiAwa; A Dissertation.
With thanks to: The Dowse Art Museum and Pataka Art + Museum.
Cover Image: Untitled Print, 2023, Kristin O’Sullivan Peren, Wi Taepa, silk screen on 300gsm matte.