Exhibited at Tauranga Art Gallery (July-September 2017) and documented page 80 in exhibition catalogue “Toi Mauri - Contemporary Māori Carving by Todd Couper”
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 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).One of the gods most often called on the karakia (incantations) was Tāwhirimātea, he was one of the children of Ranganui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) to remain in the upper realms with his father and also represents a tangible link between the heavens and the earth. Māori believed strongly that there was only a thin veil that separated the realm of the gods from the physical world and that this could be bridged with the correct knowledge and tools. Some early examples of pūrerehua were heavily ornamented with carved manaia figures (bird forms).
Considered a guardian and messenger, the manaia could move freely between realms. Couper’s work entitled Tāwhirimātea is the culmination of his series of new works. It is the personification of the atua (god) and reflects many of the qualities of the pūrerehua, particularly the role of this taonga puoro (musical instrument) in creating a connection between the physical present and the spiritual past.
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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