Since returning to Aotearoa in early 2020, Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist Jade Townsend has continued to explore materiality through assemblages that incorporate items sourced in and around her immediate environment.
This installation focuses on natural materials and inorganic debris commonly found along shorelines throughout Te Moananui-a-Kiwa and offers a way to consider how movement across the great ocean is constantly connecting us.
During a visit to contemporary jewellery artist Neke Moa’s studio in Ōtaki, Townsend was inspired by their matangongore (opal top) shell collection gathered from local beaches. The distinctive highly patterned shells, not common on Aotearoa’s coasts, epitomise how sea currents are relentlessely shifting and items are always in a state of transfer. For Townsend, materials gathered through scouring the edges of the ocean have the ability to draw in the physical expanse of the moana and are a reminder of the permanence of introduced materials to this ecosystem.
In Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, Townsend uses an everyday beach mat to investigate these ideas. Through paint and physical intervention, the mat is transformed to emulate the distinctive pattern of the matangongore shell’s surface. By un-weaving the structure of the synthetic fibres, Townsend works the mat to more closely resemble organic matter, creating an opportunity to reflect on the bonding force of this body of water and our collective responsibility to consider how foreign materials impact this fragile environment.
The artist wishes to acknowledge Neke Moa and the editors of ATE Journal of Māori Art, Bridget Reweti and Matariki Williams in the development of these ideas.
Jade Townsend (Ngāti Kahungunu) is a visual artist and storyteller working at the intersection of her Māori, Pākehā and British heritage. She describes it as a “non-fixed duality that ebbs and flows with contradictory cultural forces every day. My wairua – my spirit – connects to many seemingly disparate fields.” She was born and raised in Aramoho, Whanganui before moving to Huyton, Liverpool, United Kingdom where she lived as a teenager. Townsend’s exposure to a wide range of accents, dialects, regional slang, folktale and pūrākau made her aware of the limitations of translation and cultural hybridity as a completely transparent process. For Townsend, her cultural identity forms in the non-translatable, the left-over and residual aspects of herself for which there is no interpretative counterpoint in relation to the other. Townsend recently brought together a group of artists in the project Hauhake and led a wananga at Objectspace as part of the Caravannex artist in residence series.