Studio Practice 2015

branch©RangimarieMcDowell2015 Te Rangihiroa Panoho conveys in response to appropriation of Maori culture

“…of 150 years of Pakeha social, economic, political and cultural colonisation…it is now essential for Maori to resume control, re-establish boundaries for appropriation and move taha Maori back to the centre.” (Barr, 123)

Moving my epistemology to Taha Maori is a natural position, it is grounding and healing and it holds me in a space that allows me to re-connect holistically with my reo, whanau and whenua, until I re-learnt those aspects of self I recognised the underdevelopment of my own Taha Wairua (spiritual side), because I never had the words to express this in Pakeha. In recognising this issue in self, it awakened me to the wider scope of how others in the world connect to this place within self, and the significance that cultural awareness could have on all of our minds.

In studio this is achieved by utilising organic materials directly from my environment and which in turn secure my connection to Taha Wairua. The kauri tree, feathers, bones and crystals give specific ‘tohu’ or signs and holistically speak about the importance of re-connection to these signs in nature, and even being able to recognise the significant cultural meanings of each. This as I have outlined could be a difficult feat considering the legacy of colonisation and re-establishing the ‘tohu’ and their collective importance considering wairua and atua they are derivative from. For instance the bones when crystallized are no longer just animal matter. I see them as Papatuanukus bones, the very foundation of our existence.

Crystals have a language of their own, steeped in history across cultures throughout the world, having many usages including healing, cultural rituals and status symbols. This is synonomous across many Indigenous cultures including Egyptians, Mayans, African, Japanese and Native Americans.

b215c25c144971df694410261a223869   sacre

Above is an Egyptian Goddess Artefact dated c.300,000BC which prompted my initial investigation into crystals. The eyes are Lapis Lazuli which was a prized and precious stone for the Ancient Egyptians, partly because it was hard to find. All crystals posses certain abilities this is what is believed:  “Lapis lazuli is regarded by many people around the world as the stone of friendship and truth. The blue stone is said to encourage harmony in relationships and help its wearer to be authentic and give his or her opinion openly.(  Lapis Lazuli in the Renneisance period paintings was regarded as a colour to represent royalty and reverence, it was an expensive paint. Its a precious memory of mine visiting the Sacre Coeur and being blown away by the blues and golds used within this Cathedral. Obviously the spiritual links to these colours hold a major impression on me.


The photo above is a crystal cave found in Mexico in Naica Its interesting to look at it in relation to the Cathedral as a space where religion and spirituality can be marvelled upon. The Physical existence of the caves are for the moment being investigated: “The caves are accessible today because the mining company’s pumping operations keep them clear of water. If the pumping were stopped, the caves would again be submerged in water. The crystals deteriorate in air, so the Naica Project is attempting to visually document the crystals before they deteriorate further… Beside mineralogical and crystallographic studies, biogeochemical and microbial characterization of the gypsum giant crystals were also performed. Stein-Erik Lauritzen (University of Bergen, Norway) performed uranium-thorium dating to determine the maximum age of the giant crystals, about 500,000 years.”

Apart from the age of these caves being AMAZING The process that I make my crystals are the mini scale to this natural formation of crystals. I rely upon each of the objects that I crystallise to be submerged in hot water with the borax solution, to be cooled in a refrigerator. It is also important that the objects do not touch the sides of the containers that they are made in, I found that glass could hold the temperature and capacity of water the best. Also the coolness of the fridge became a factor in how big the crystals formed. Crystals formed in room temperature didn’t reach the same hardness of structure that the fridge crystals achieved. at 8:14. This short video discussed the usage of crystal skulls by the Ancient Mayans to install the memories and knowledge of ‘chosen’ individuals every 100 years thus creating actual objects that collective memories are installed into and able to be accessed by future generations.


Applying Post colonial theories such as Orientalism and the ‘ Te whare Tapa wha’ Maori Health model, addresses an understanding as my role as an art practioner to being a part of a solution to connect cultural understandings to artistic outcomes. This manifests itself in the installation and presentation of my pieces. The exhibition place is where the audience will experience the art work the possibility for conversation into what spirituality and taha wairua means to each individual or even within self is an exciting prospect. The structural solution to installation or the possible future objects could also be effected.

“Modern scientists are reaffirming what the ancients observed in their world and taught in their myths: that a consistent language of geometric design underpins every level of the universe, from atoms through galaxies (Schineider)


Installation ideas: The crystalline system and the five primary structures that are viewed in their raw state is another possibility. The crystal and its connection to sacred geometry- ‘the study of geometry within nature, consistent within all life forms.’( It also reflects the spiritual – “The ancients knew that the geometric patterns and codes were symbolic of our inner realm and the subtle structure of consciousness, because mind and matter reflect each other.”( This belief is also consistent with the ‘tohu’ and the ancients being ‘tohunga’. Below is Chiharu Shiota’s installation named “Dialogue From DNA” 2004. I looked as her usage of thread and installation formations. The red is inspired by the blood lines of each of the wearers of each of the shoes that were used in her installation. She also does amazing installations with thread reminiscent of spiders webs and crystalline structures as well as her own collective memories of childhood which are reflective of her own cultural heritage which fits nicely with my own practice. For my studio work the usage of gold thread reiterates the reverence that is experienced when viewing the crystals and of course that gold itself is a crystal or precious stone.

chiharu_shiota2_l   biel1


Future objects: The possibility of creating a structure of collective memories is utilised in the installation of many pieces making up a whole. But what if the whole is an exact representation of the actual collective memory? I would be interested in sculpting a wire and bone kaitiaki(guardian), a representation of all of the tohu combined into a type of atua that looks after me as an individual. In the tapa wha model ‘taha hinengaro’ ‘as the capacity to communicate, to think and to feel. Maori thinking can be described as holistic…understanding occurs less by dividing things into smaller parts… The bigger picture retains the essence of the individual while addressing the needs of the whole.’ (Durie,1).

Also I have experimented with a loom and grew crystals on to it. The outcome was quite beautiful and opened up many possibilities- making my own looms, in different forms each of which will have the actual loom concealed either within the frame or the bones being the frame. The definite structure that the thread on the loom creates and the structure that the crystal itself creates, stimulates conversations around growth, space, time and balance.






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