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Sumer Art Gallery Tauranga Bay of Plenty New Zealand

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Turumeke Harrington

26 June - 19 July 2019

Design School taught me how to think about materials – how to consider us and our needs. It gave me the skills to figure out how to get things done.

 

Art School taught me how to think about materials too; but the how, what, why and for whom was far less certain.

 

Art provides makers (artists) and their audience with an opportunity to be thoughtful. Unlike most other visual forms or designed objects, within the context of art, the solution seldom provides an answer.

 

Speaking as an artist, I consider design as my chosen medium. I like to think about objects and things. Forms, materials and finishes – how we engage with these things, how they relate to the body and how they are consumed; there is something about approaching art from a design perspective which appeals to me.

 

Like most people, I gravitate to things which are familiar. For me these things are functional objects such as chairs, tables, benches. And in considering that the purpose of art is not to be useful, but rather to be thoughtful, function in my work becomes less a concern of use and more one of engagement. As sculptures, their value becomes defined by formal concerns of colour, light, composition and materiality (soft/hard, light/heavy, big/small); and conceptual concerns (i.e. cultural associations and propositions).

 

I am Māori, of Ngāi Tahu descent, and I am a woman. I am an artist, a designer and a mother.

 

Being Māori fundamentally informs how I think about work, and is something that is most clearly articulated by my design-oriented approach. Historically speaking, in Te Ao Māori there was no equivalent concept for art [1]. What we had instead were the things we used in our daily lives, things which were embellished; and which also functioned as vessels of knowledge and to share stories too. Basically what we had was not dissimilar to the concept of gesamtkunstwerk – the total work of art, or everything as art – though in a different paradigm (and one which was way less bourgeois!). I consider this everythingness, or art in the everyday, when I think about making.

 

Play is also key consideration in my work. As a mother I often visit galleries with my daughter Pia. Pia is three and a half and she is not yet at a stage where she can appreciate the act of simply looking at art. For her the notion that she cannot physically engage, touch or manipulate the objects in front of her is the cause of immense consternation. While as adults, most of us have moved past this phase, appreciating that objects of reverence are most often off-limits, tapu (due to their vulnerabilty or value, or as is often the case, both of these things). Yet when I think of my own work I am motivated to create something which does not fit with this conventional logic. I am instead driven by a desire to make work that is accessible, for which children such as Pia can also appreciate. And in doing so I am taken to thinking around the importance of tactile learning – the act of physically engaging with something – as a means of sensemaking. I think this is as important to adults as children, though often we are at pains to admit it; especially in the context of art.

 

In introducing his book The Return of the Real, Hal Foster describes a moment when, standing in a gallery with a friend, they witness a child playing on a minimalist sculpture. Foster states, “There we were an art critic and artist informed in contemporary art, taken to school by a six-year-old, our theory was no match for her practice.”[2] This is an anecdote which resonates.

 

To me, consistent with this idea of everythingness, I feel it is necessary for my art to not be off-limits. I would rather my work be rough-and-ready: unprecious, humorous and fun. And this reflects my choices of both palette and materials: the palette I am taken to using is bright and pop; and materials are mass-produced, readily sourced and cheap (relatively speaking). They are also (mostly) flexible and robust, with soft edges.

 

- Turumeke Harrington and Dan du Bern in conversation, June 2019

 


[1] Janice Helland, Beverley Lemire and Alena Buis (Ed.), Craft, Community and the Material Culture of Place and Politics, 19th-20th Century, Farnham, Ashgate, 2014, p.62

 

[2] Hal Foster, The Return of The Real, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1997, p. ix