In Conversation with Threaded.
written by Kaan Hiini @Curative_NZ
It’s a cold Saturday night towards the end of August and Objectspace on Ponsonby Rd is rammed full of people. A group of outrageously stylish young artists position themselves at the entrance, their laughter and conversation hinting at the riotous noise held within the building. Weaving through the crowds and past the various installations I manage to find a beaming Kyra Clarke, slightly flush from the heat of the room. She’s celebrating the launch of the 20th Edition of Threaded, and seems slightly relieved to have made it through a symposium at the Auckland Museum earlier that day, where she discussed the latest instalment in collaboration with Carin Wilson.
Threaded, for those unfamiliar, is a biannual magazine sharing insights into a range of practitioners and their practice, across the creative industries. Started in 2004 by Clarke and Fiona Grieve, the international collaborative project curates these insights into practice through discussion and presentation of practice, thinking and process. The publication has always been an impressively ambitious gem in the Auckland design scene, so lovingly crafted by its small team, while achieving a wide readership thanks to the cast of creative heavy hitters they manage to enrol. The latest issue, though, has taken a slightly different focus, hinting at what feels like a very personal journey that has culminated in an issue that feels like a homecoming of sorts for the magazine.
Following the excitement of the launch, and away from the celebratory drinks, I managed to wrangle some time with both of Threaded’s founders to discuss the new issue and what has lead to this new focus.
Can you tell me about Threaded Ed. 20?
This is a seminal issue for us and it’s important to acknowledge that this issue is a collaboration and co-edition with Ngā Aho, the national network of Māori Design Professionals. We worked closely with Desna Whaanga-Schollum, Carin Wilson, and our manuhiri. Everyone has generously shared their art, design, cultural expression and visual identity to create a collaboration that connects us professionally, spiritually, physically, and culturally with the unique identity and landscape of Māori creative practitioners and mahi toi discourse.
The Kaupapa is inspired by the essence (te ihi) of Matariki – New Beginnings, a time to acknowledge our influences and learnings; past, present and future. This is a people-focused publication about practice and this issue provides a platform to feature ten indigenous practitioners at the forefront of Māori contemporary art, craft and design; Carin Wilson, Lisa Reihana, Rangi Kipa, Jack Gray, Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta, Lonnie Hutchinson, Natalie Robertson, Janet Lilo, Jessica Sanderson and Martin Awa Clarke Langdon.
What makes it such a special issue for you?
The list is long! The calibre of the content for one – each of the manuhiri profiled engage with this issue in a meaningful way. You can feel their presence and the deep connection they each have to whanau, to place and to their practice. Their artwork signposts the thinking and experience that sits behind what we see – from love letters, to poems, to one liners, to childhood memories. It will leave you feeling connected and enriched.
This issue has significantly shaped our editorial platform going forward and ignited a deeper appreciation of the importance of a cultural partner. We received generous guidance and entered into a new form of collaboration with members of Ngā Aho who informed values, processes and protocols at every turn. This connection, inclusion and exchange with our cultural partner Ngā Aho and the ten manuhiri make Ed.20 tino motuhake (extremely special).
I agree. I think the collaboration with Ngā Aho has been fantastic! It’s been really interesting to see your introduction of Māori design, and I really appreciate your embracing of it in Ed.20. What’s led you to this new focus?
A couple of years ago we were involved in 16/2, a Fedrigoni publication featuring the original work of 8 international designers. Each studio had a sixteen-page section to express the creative identity of their country. We wanted to use design to touch the very essence of who we are – to ignite a spirit of Aotearoa-ness. With this in mind we started with a Karanga “Nau mai ki te ao o te rama-a-roa. Tihewa mauri ora” to introduce an international audience to our cultural heritage. The idea was to take readers on a hīkoi (journey) through our unique geographical location and pay homage to the Māori myths and legends that speak to the heart of our history and people. We created a sequence of geographic and iconic indicators which represented whenua and taonga, bookended by an explanatory index. Our creative approach was collaborative – we crossed countries and embraced generations to share knowledge and develop an expression of our culture that stayed true to the fact that our studio is comprised of Māori and non-Māori.
In pre-production conversations we kept returning to 16/2 – we both wanted to pay homage to our origins and interconnection with practitioners in Aotearoa. Themes like ‘changing lanes’ and ‘new beginnings’ emerged and, at the time, we were talking about interesting projects such as Public Share and The Roots: Creative Entrepreneurs. We decided to dedicate Ed.20 exclusively to Māori art and design practitioners and mahi toi discourse and realised that we couldn’t do this without counsel from a cultural partner. With support from Te Puni Kokiri, and our long standing associates Centurion Print, and B&F Papers, we formed a new partnership with Ngā Aho, and Ed.20 began…
Photo: Courtesy of Objectspace
You spoke a bit at the symposium about the meanings behind the patterns on the cover. How did that come together?
We wanted the cover to introduce our manuhuri and speak directly to the kaupapa and content of this issue. All of the patterns created were contemporary reinterpretations derivative of taniko, tukutuku, tamoko and raranga. Each one was specifically created to reflect the korero of each manuhiri featured, and we liked the subtle way the cover links to their lead-in spreads. We had a very open dialogue surrounding this approach which allowed us to have flexibility in our application and establish our own kawa (protocols) for using these components as a representation of each and every featured manuhiri.
Initially Kyra worked closely with her mother, Karyn Gibbons and her cousin, Reghan Anderson, a self-taught tamoko and whakairo artist, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Design in Whangarei, to conceptualise and contextualise this approach. Reghan was a great soundboard for identifying ideas and patterns which we could adapt, and his contemporary perspective and visual style informed the stylised loose puhoro pattern used in Jack Gray’s article. This was a perfect starting point as it represented the agility, grace and rhythm of a ‘dancer’ with the inverted koiri pattern symbolising flourishing. For Jessica Sanderson we created a pattern influenced by a fantail to represent Hine-nui-te-pō, the only bird brave enough to go with Maui when he tried to defeat her and make man immortal. We drew inspiration from this Atua as Hine-nui-te-pō was Jessica’s inspiration for a new film project ‘Ways to See’ which she is currently working on.
The pattern created for Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta was derivative and symbolic of Hine te iwaiwa, guardian of weaving and knowledge for future generations. In the stories we know, she is also referred to as ‘God of Potential’. We liked this connection to Elisapeta who’s involved in projects that celebrate women and a focus on creating better communities. Her mahi has a strong connection to whanau, huna and mama and ‘weaving’ was a strong representation of this. Martin Awa Clarke Langdon, Carin Wilson and Rangi Kipa let us repurpose patterns that were significant to them, and Desna Whaanga-Schollum’s concept behind Janet Lilo’s tatau design identifies the spaces in between woven binding and the safe little enclosures which the cross-overs make.
Each pattern operates like a personal signature and the final cover represents the collaborative ethos of this issue. We created a tukutuku pattern derivative of kaokao (armpit or rib pattern) symbolising strength and unity to embody Threaded as a ‘holding’ platform – a venue for the dissemination of practice, cultural expression, visual identity and dialogue.
I love that there are so many stories to uncover behind these designs. I notice your use of motif has increased over the last few issues. How do you find your reference points for cultural motifs, and what considerations do you have to make in their use?
We take reference from research and contemporary practice alongside cultural and historical precedents and protocols. It’s one thing to visually connect to stories and traditional patterns of Māori art and design but cultural context and content has to underpin the work to be meaningful and substantial. We are open and honest about what we don’t know, and will listen to the ideas and advice from Karyn and our manuhuri, Desna, and Ngā Aho members who share their knowledge and critique. When we are working with particular iwi or hapu to design tohu, Kyra will visit with kaumatua to discuss tupuna and stories of the past, drawing inspiration from the korero to create something that they feel looks to the future and best represents ‘them’ – collaboration is crucial.
The motifs created in the lead-in sections for this issue were modern interpretations of traditional images inspired by nature and mythology. For example, the motif of the linear bone carving that introduces our Pae Tahi/Galleria section represents a triple twist to depict new shoots growing together, and the stylised patu used on the Kaupapa Whanāu/Associates lead-in spread is representative of an instrument of war that introduces our associates who stand beside us in battle. We tried to identify motifs that symbolised a connection to the whakatauki and korero within each section.
It’s great that you’re finding ways to bring cultural touch points into your work. We’re quite lucky here in Auckland to be living amongst such a high concentration of Māori and Pasfika cultures. The visual languages that we are exposed to are completely unique to this part of the world, and I’m fascinated with how traditional patterns and motifs are adapted for contemporary use. But these motifs can be overused too. Is there anything about Māori & Pasifika related design that you find cringey or cliché?
Haha, we’re not ones to throw stones! Each cultural project we are involved in offers a learning exchange, at the moment it’s steeper on our side! There is no room for ego – at times we cringe at our lack of knowledge in regard to indigenous cultural principles and protocols. Thankfully, our naivety and inexperience is reshaped by our collaborators, or Kyra’s mother, Karyn, who continually shows us a better way of approaching and understanding cultural contexts. This collaboration has steered us in a new direction.
The exchange with Ngā Aho and these ten extremely articulate and connected Māori creative practitioners has shifted us towards a more culturally holistic and integrated way of thinking and working. We can meaningfully talk about our use of motifs, pattern and design, and stand behind this issue because it is underpinned by the guidance, exchange and knowledge shared with us by our collaborators and partners.
There’s been some conversation recently about pressures felt by visible Māori professionals, and accusations of being a plastic Māori. Kyra, how do you feel about assuming the “Māori Designer” title?
To a certain degree – and in relation to specific cultural projects, I sometimes do find myself questioning ‘Am I Māori enough’ to do this? Perhaps that’s because I was raised in Auckland and only really travelled home to my marae and urupa for working bees, weddings or funerals. I often find that self-doubt or questioning is a common part of the beginning phase of every creative project, and for me it’s a good catalyst to connect and really push the creative boundaries, to provide the best solution for our clients and studio. Creativity is often drawn from life experiences – what you feel and know from korero, listening and collaboration. For me this is natural, probably ingrained in me through my upbringing and family.
I am attracted to the work of Māori practitioners that have a much more tactile-based craft, where the work they create and their connection to the materiality is innate. Being a Māori graphic designer and working in front of screens shifting pixels around with a wacom or mouse is a much different way of ‘mark making’ – on that note it would be great to do an issue focused on Māori Graphic Designers!
Do you feel any extra responsibility?
From the beginning Threaded has been committed to bridging the gap between established and emerging practitioners. I believe that we all have a responsibility to mentor and encourage up-and-coming designers. In the past I haven’t actually felt any extra responsibility as a Māori designer, and hoped that my/our successes will inspire and educate young people of all nationalities. We try to involve interns in every issue – who we work with really depends on the project and what knowledge and skills-sets are needed. This issue has certainly highlighted my own cultural expression and identity. We were fortunate to have prominent role models involved in Ed.20, and I know how important it is to be generous and give back.
I think the introduction of the Ngā Aho category of the Best Awards has done a lot and will continue to help push and refine Māori design. It’s encouraging to see the number of entries increasing and the quality improving.
Yeah. We think it’s the best and appreciate the work that Ngā Aho founders and members have done in conjunction with DINZ to create a section dedicated to acknowledging projects that have a focus on cultural communities, values and design. It validates creative outcomes underpinned and strengthened by collaboration and cultural context. We entered 16/2 in 2014 and felt very honoured and proud to receive an award in this category and be positioned alongside a significant suite of projects that are transforming our unique identity and cultural landscape.
Grab your copy of Threaded Ed. 20 at http://store.threaded.co.nz/product/threaded-ed-20-preorder
Use the Discount Code “EDITION20” for a 25% discount on Ed. 20! Thanks Threaded!