Exhibited at Tauranga Art Gallery (July-September 2017) and documented page 80 in exhibition catalogue “Toi Mauri - Contemporary Māori Carving by Todd Couper” - Lizards by Lewis Gardiner
For this, his first related series, Couper chose the traditional Māori taonga puoro (musical instrument) known most commonly as the pūrerehua (bullroarer). He was interested in teasing out a range of ideas using the same basic form, “I wanted to investigate a wall-based 2-dimensional form and experiment with ways to create depth and build narratives using paint, layering, texture and pattern”. With this body of work Couper has pushed the physical and dimensional parameters, but he also wanted to discover where he could go with the subject conceptually.
A traditional pūrerehua consists of a thin, flat piece of hard material, most commonly a resonant wood such as matai, or sometimes whalebone and stone. This elongated oval that resembles the end of a hoe (paddle) is attached via a muka (flax fibre) cord to a decorated rod. The user swings the taonga puoro in increasingly swift rotations about their head, creating a deep whirring sound that is sometimes accompanied by a series of low booms. Other examples of pūrerehua are simply connected to a long harakeke (flax) rope and swung directly by the user. Utilised in a variety of ways over generations, this instrument is most closely connected with the arts of the tohunga (priest) who used his considerable skills to call on the power of the atua (gods).
In his work Rangorango, Couper explores the role of the pūrerehua to assist with spiritual undertakings. A tohunga was often required to undertake rituals that would rid an individual or community of a bad omen or kēhua (ghost or spirit). He would use the distinctive oscillations of the pūrerehua which, when played correctly, resembles the sound of rangorango, to draw out a negative spirit, often in the guise of a bright green moko (lizard). The tohunga would then capture and kill the moko, which was then eaten in order to destroy its wairua (spiritual power). The word ‘pure’ means to remove tapu (sacredness) and can also be applied to the banishing of negative powers, while ‘pūrere’ can mean to flee or escape.
In this work Couper has depicted the moko as a universal form. The taratara (notches) along its spine are derived from the tuatara (reptile), while the shape of the body and head are more like the gecko. The two pounamu (greenstone) moko, created by Lewis Gardiner, suggest the conflicted nature of this creature as a good omen, precious as a kaitiaki (guardian), and also as the harbinger of bad luck.
Text excerpt from catalogue, written by Karl Chitham, Director, Tauranga Art Gallery
Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.
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