Working with Jock

Jock at Massey University, Palmerston North, at the launch of The Settled Landscape theme

Jock at Massey University, Palmerston North, at the launch of The Settled Landscape theme

As the time comes to wish Jock Phillips well for a long and fruitful retirement, we can reflect on some of the special qualities he has brought to the leadership of the Te Ara project.

It’s particularly wonderful to see his delight in the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in non-fiction, coming as it does when the focus is on Jock’s recent work for Te Ara. Jock wrote 43 entries for the online encyclopedia. That’s about 200,000 words, the equivalent of a very substantial, heavily illustrated volume. Not to mention that over the same period he also produced books, essays, interviews and blog posts, and wrote hundreds, possibly thousands, of captions, and read every single one of the over 3 million words in Te Ara – most of them more than once.

To me the outstanding qualities of Jock’s leadership have been his energy and his commitment. He has been totally engrossed in every aspect of the work, and his delight in the discovery of new material, new insights and new ways to tell a story has been generously shared with the team, at meetings, at morning tea gatherings and at social events.

The other truly notable quality of Jock’s leadership is his consultative way of working. He’s not short of ideas or the drive with which to progress them, but he insists on testing his ideas and assumptions with others, whether they be the acknowledged experts in their field, iwi and whānau with a duty of kaitiakitanga, or, equally importantly, his colleagues in the Te Ara team who will have to live and work with the consequences of decisions.

And this intelligence, incisiveness, creativity and energy comes with generosity, empathy and humility. Within reason. The man is profoundly human: witness his willingness to change his mind and to admit when he has made a decision he regrets, his recalcitrance on matters of progressive house style, and his appalling sense of humour.

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Te Ara’s Creative and Intellectual Life launched

Sam Neill launching Creative and Intellectual Life

Sam Neill launching Creative and Intellectual Life

Last evening a sparkling celebratory event at The Paramount in Wellington saw Sam Neill launch the Creative and Intellectual Life theme of Te Ara.

The presentation interspersed highlights from Te Ara’s new theme, projected in mammoth size on the big screen, with living cultural performances. Along with Sam Neill’s droll humour, there was a powerful welcome in the form of a haka pōwhiri performed by Ngā Tai Hononga o Marutawhiti, two contrasting poems from Hinemoana Baker (one about death and the second a humorous comment on rugby), a gripping performance from the New Zealand School of Dance and music afterwards from Rio Hunuki-Hemopo with guest artists.

Ngā Tai Hononga o Marutawhiti performing a haka pōwhiri

Ngā Tai Hononga o Marutawhiti performing a haka pōwhiri

Creative and Intellectual Life comprises 103 stories organised into nine sections and about 3,000 resources in the form of images, sound files, graphs, maps, interactives and film and television clips. The best way to enjoy this feast of new content is to begin reading and browsing; and I fully expect (and hope) that you will find it hard to stop. But, just to whet your appetite, here are a few of the themes running through the stories that struck me and which I presented last night.

Multi-media creativity

Much of the creative art we included doesn’t fit into neat pigeonholes by genre – rather, it spans media. Albert Wendt, novelist, is also a painter; Douglas Wright, dancer, is also a marvellous writer. And artists in one medium interact with others. Last night, for example, we showed Colin McCahon’s wonderful ‘Walk (series C)‘, a painted tribute to his friend James K. Baxter which ‘walks’ along Muriwai Beach contemplating Baxter’s life and recent death.

Poet Hinemoana Baker performs

Poet Hinemoana Baker performs

Cultural diversity

New Zealand creativity has been enriched by the dialogue of Māori and Pakehā, with each drawing on the other – Māori used western traditions of literacy and music; Pakehā modernist such as Gordon Walters drew on the Māori koru. And the country has gained hugely from distinctive cultural traditions: English choral music, Scots pipe bands, and Pacific humour and music.

The importance of land and the natural world

The tapering cocoon of the case moth inspired the shape of the Pūtōrino, the Māori flute. European painters made the land their favourite subject – from William Hodges melodramatic take on Cook Strait on Cook’s second voyage, to Karl Maughan’s hyperrealism. Even in film, a young Brian Brake, better known now for his photography, first made his name with a lyrical documentary, ‘The Snows of Aorangi‘ (1955), the first New Zealand film nominated for an Academy Award.

Senior editor Jock Phillips takes us through some highlights of Creative and Intellectual Life

Senior editor Jock Phillips takes us through some highlights of Creative and Intellectual Life

The body

The body is a site for wearable art, whether a stunning kahu huruhuru or a 1980s fashion design. And the body is an instrument for creative culture – the vigorous pūkana in kapa haka or the voice of Malvina Major.

Institutional support

Creative culture rarely comes from the isolated tormented artist. It flourishes more when institutions encourage it and give it a home – in the form of galleries, museums, festivals, publishers and the award of prizes.

Some of the amazing dancers from the New Zealand School of Dance

Some of the amazing dancers from the New Zealand School of Dance

International recognition

Finally this theme provides many examples where New Zealand creativity has impacted on the world, and the world has stood and applauded. They include Te Māori at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neil Dawson at Paris’s Pompidou Centre, the Flight of the Conchords on the Simpsons, Lorde at the Grammy’s, the Symphony Orchestra in Vienna, and New Zealand at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Rio Hunuki-Hemopo (second from left) with guest artists

Rio Hunuki-Hemopo (second from left) with guest artists

This is just one journey through a wonderfully verdant forest – take a look and we hope you can follow your own pathway. Whichever route you take, we can promise plenty of glorious stops along the way. Enjoy Creative and intellectual Life!

Sam Neill chatting with launch attendees

Sam Neill chatting with launch attendees

Giving voice to an aria

The music for Aria: a dawn song, by Christopher Blake

The music for Aria: a dawn song, by Christopher Blake

Te Ara’s new story on New Zealand composers, written by William Dart, charts the development and maturation of a home-grown composing tradition. In a story devoted to music it was necessary to make lavish use of sound and video recordings and we haven’t stinted in that regard – readers can listen to the likes of 19th-century pioneer Alfred Hill, composing giant Douglas Lilburn, and contemporary composers Eve de Castro-Robinson and Jeremy Mayall, who combines electronic music and turntablism with taonga puoro (Māori musical instruments) to great effect.

One of the more exciting resources for those of us who worked on this story was Christopher Blake’s Aria: a dawn song. This short piece for solo flute was composed in 1991 for the opening of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs (which, in 2000, joined up with the history and heritage parts of the Department of Internal Affairs to become Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which is home to Te Ara). The ministry had a framed copy of the score and we hoped to use this in the entry and bring it to life with an accompanying recording. Alas, Dawn song had never been recorded.

Being a resourceful bunch, we saw this as an opportunity rather than a problem. We needed to get Chris Blake’s permission to publish the score on Te Ara, so asked him about a recording at the same time. Chris is CEO of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and so had no shortage of suitably qualified musicians at his fingertips. He arranged for principal flute Bridget Douglas to play the piece and it was recorded at the end of a larger NZSO recording project.

We are delighted to present this recording of Aria: a dawn song to the world at a time when the first build of Te Ara is ending and a new phase beginning.

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki – artist, scholar, critic, historian, battler for humanities

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tērā te uira e hiko ana mai,
Ka wāhi rua i runga o Rakaumangamanga
Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne

Te Ara today mourns the loss of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. Jonathan was one of our finest contributors, whose story about contemporary Māori art will appear on Te Ara Shortly. His essay says much about the man: it is a beautifully written piece which Jonathan completed about six months ago as he battled ill health – but he was determined to get it done. With elegant and polite emails he kept me fully informed of his progress, and when the entry arrived it hardly needed to be touched.

And the story that he tells was close to his own interests and passions. He had first studied as a painter under the radical expressionist Rudolf Gopas and was among the artists represented at the pioneering Canterbury Museum exhibition in 1966: ‘Maori culture and the contemporary scene’. He recounts how Māori artists were able to combine modernist aesthetics and Māori traditions into work that has been among the nation’s most creative of the past 50 years. Just think of some of the names – Ralph Hotere, Cliff Whiting, Para Matchitt, Emare Karaka, Robyn KahukiwaMichael Parekowhai and Shane Cotton. Truly Aotearoa would be hugely poorer without such work enriching our world. Jonathan was one of the great supporters, documenters and interpreters of this movement, and we are delighted he felt able to tell that story for Te Ara.

Jonathan’s championing of Māori art is not his only contribution to New Zealand’s culture. I first came across him when he was a young lecturer at Canterbury University who was researching architectural history, especially the Gothic revival. He recently made clear his desire that one of this country’s major expressions of that tradition, the Christchurch Cathedral should, if possible, be restored. His interest in architecture flowed through into his study of Māori history – I recall his beautifully paced presentation to the last New Zealand historians conference on the extraordinary history of the Mataatua wharenui.

After Canterbury University, Jonathan moved to Te Papa, where he directed the art team, and then went on to the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. Along the way he battled fearlessly for research in humanities, helping to get the humanities included within the Royal Society and, in turn, he was recognised by that august body with the Pou Aronui Award in 2012 for his ‘outstanding contribution in the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

Finally, I recall a man who was always warm and generous towards his peers, who was extraordinarily thoughtful of others, and was a complete gentleman (in the very best sense) in his behaviour. I did not know him well, but I always felt as if he personally really cared about my welfare.

So, Jonathan, rest easy. And when ‘Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu’ appears on Te Ara’s live site we will raise a glass in your memory and in gratitude for what you did to bring cultural history to life.

Designs for living

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

The showroom of designer David Trubridge (click for image credit)

For those of us who cannot draw more than the odd doodle, the release of our eight new stories on architecture and design is cause for jealousy and wonderment. The inventiveness of people who can imagine a new building, or a new typeface or a new object – such as a revolutionary pair of scissors – is almost magical. The whole group of entries is a testament to the major theme of Te Ara’s last section: creativity.

There are four stories which focus on architecture. To be honest, colonial New Zealand was not especially noted for its creativity or originality in this field. The one exception was in Māori architecture, where, as Deidre Brown shows, Māori developed the idea of large carved wharenui (meeting houses) a style previously unknown in Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, European architects, whether designing domestic buildings, public, commercial and religious buildings, or theatres and halls, stuck to their European background. Architecture was heavily imitative, copying historic styles. Early buildings were a restrained Georgian; but then the battle of the styles developed between classical revival style and Gothic. Gothic, used commonly in churches, was also found in some homes such as Auckland’s Highwic and some public buildings, for example Canterbury’s provincial council chambers. There were some marvels even within these traditions, and I urge you in particular to look at the interactive of Francis Petre’s Catholic basilicas in classical revival style.

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

Ōamaru courthouse, one of New Zealand's many classical-style public buildings (click for image credit)

The 20th century saw international influences remain strong, but there were striking local variations – James Chapman-Taylor’s homes, which developed out of the arts and crafts movement, the modernist-influenced buildings of Ernst Plischke, the Group Architects‘ attempt to adapt the modernist style to a New Zealand way of life, and John Scott’s magnificent Futuna Chapel, which blended Māori and Gothic church elements with modernism. It is also worth looking at the images and films of theatres and cinemas, some of which were enchanted spaces where ‘everything ordinary was left behind’, as the narrator says in Peter Well’s film about Auckland’s iconic Civic Theatre.

The story of landscape architecture shares with the stories of design – fashion, graphic and industrial – a period of striking growth and creativity in the last part of the 20th century. Although there were garden designers before then, the profession did not really get established until the early 1970s. Since then, landscape architects have helped transform the character of our cities.

Fashion design got its kick-start in the 1940s, when the disruption of imports and a ready market, with American troops here, led to the first local fashion houses. The last 30 years of the century saw an outburst of creative designers and fashion houses such as Zambesi, Trelise Cooper, WORLD, Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester. Exposure at the London Fashion Week in 1999 was international recognition that there was something happening down under – something ‘edgy, dark and intellectual’.

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Speedee electric jugs (click for image credit)

Industrial design took off in 1962, when both Elam and the Wellington School of Design began professional training. Forty years later industrial designers had helped change the way we experience our every day lives, with such creations as:

  • the electric ‘jug’ (as distinct from the British ‘kettle’)
  • Fisher & Paykel’s DishDrawer
  • Methven’s SatinJet shower
  • Bendon’s seamless bra
  • Phil & Ted’s baby buggy.

As for the third type of design, graphic design, there was some fine work in the 1930s and 1940s, especially some great railway posters. But, again, it was 1962 when the first fully professional training began. The fruits of this were seen in some stunning logos for New Zealand Post, New Zealand Railways and the 1974 Commonwealth Games. In the digital age, New Zealand’s internationally recognised typographic designers included Catherine Griffiths, Sarah Maxey and Kris Sowersby.

Fittingly, these stories are to be enjoyed as much for the visuals as for the words. As you pass from image to image you cannot but be grateful for how much the talented people who can draw have enriched our world – in the buildings we inhabit, the objects we use, and the clothes we wear.