Growing in the cracks, clinging to stone

With a few creaks my making year has launched. Ideas have been germinating during a quiet, fallow time, and are now taking shape. Just getting on with life, going on holiday, working on garden projects was a good distraction from over-thinking the art-making. I’ve also started sharing a studio space in town and that’s been a great stimulus for new work. Walking in I became aware of ivy-leafed toadflax, always a favourite, growing in any little crack in stonework or footpath. First subject for drawing!

In town – especially in Queen St – people fill the frame. Walking, sitting, driving, sleeping. Finding their place even when no-one wants to grant them a place. Stubbornly clinging to seats, forming clusters round the Library, some covering their heads while others engage us, walking past, to ask for change.

I am just going to draw, paint, stitch or twine – whatever seems a way to understand what I see.

And for a brief time, over in Parnell for White Night on Saturday 18th March, I’ll be making “Tracks” ( – more over the road in front of 252 than the address given (233)! The studio (Sunday School Union building) is open too for White Night – all a part of the excitement of the Auckland Arts Festival.

“Kiss me quick”



Ileostylus Micranthus


“Kiss me quick”

In my work over the last 5 years I have been using plant forms as metaphors for human experience and interaction.

“Kiss me quick”, uses the New Zealand mistletoe to put forward a plea to think about the consequences of clearing land for farming and harvestable forest. Loss of biodiversity makes the remaining plants and animals vulnerable to disease and climatic change. While we need food as native animals do, we have not borne their needs in mind while fulfilling ours.

Mistletoes are hemi-parasites, making food from the air and sun like other plants, but getting all their water from their host tree. Birds flourish where mistletoes grow, eating their nectar and tasty berries and acting as propagators by depositing the seeds on another branch where a new plant can grow. In this way mistletoes “knit together ecosystems”*. However, deforestation, reducing numbers and density of native trees, has had a huge impact on mistletoe numbers and bird populations. Now only green mistletoe is still relatively widespread because it can live on a variety of indigenous and exotic trees whereas the other, single host varieties, are endangered.

To kiss is to touch and merge our life-breath, and in fairy tales, to bring back to life, or to “quicken”. In many cultures the mistletoe is linked with fertility, which led to the modern tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas. We must have a deep need for these symbolic acts if they have lasted so long. These knitted mistletoes, imitating plants which must use tricks to attract important pollinators and propagators, are using bright colours and their warm tactility to draw you in to sit awhile. And maybe, while you rest and enjoy this place, you will reflect on the many values of diversity.

*  Bec Stanley (Curator, Auckland Botanic Gardens) on RNZ Nights, 13 July 2015p1050316 p1050317



A shady place to sit and contemplate….


p1050404crop Juliette and Elisabeth Laird

Thank you to David and Geraldine Bayley of Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens who generously allow artists to alter these shelter huts as suits the artwork.


I haven’t been inactive over the last 3 months but I haven’t been blogging!

After Whanganui, the Place exhibition travelled to Auckland and had a showing at All Goods (a former Bank building in Avondale run by Whau The People collective – ). Wonderful showing alongside Pusi Urale’s gorgeous Blonde Maiden series with King Kapisi doing the honours at the opening.

That was July!

Then came winter, and the slow germination of work for Kaipara Coast Sculpture Garden, opening in December, for Artweek (opening next week) in two locations, and new teaching projects which as always rekindled my passion for the teaching of visual arts in school from the earliest days.

The work for Artweek ( will be in two locations. (Photos to come next week after they are installed).

My “Marginals” are off to spend a week in a very elegant minimalist foyer (the Spark building in Victoria St West) with black granite floor, This is as part of “Flora”, curated by Lyn Dallison for Auckland Council. I am very pleased about that location, once a clifftop overlooking the Waitemata harbour. From this high point you would have been able to see little bays and mangrove-fringed inlets. Today the land has encroached on those bays, “reclaimed” and built on so it is much further to the sea. The mangroves have multiplied, fed by run-off from farms and orchards, and fill large areas now but are suffering as they attempt to absorb the increased toxins. So here come the refugees, migrant mutants in search of a clean start. The bottom of the cliff is coming to the top of the cliff! A message, you might say.

In preparation I have been on my knees in the shed, making soft bootees for their legs to avoid scratching the floor!


And, inside away from the ever-falling Spring rain, the wool and wire epiphytes have been growing.

For LOOK, as part of DUST collective’s entry (, I have a small wall-hanging epiphyte, one of my trial wire and paper-mache pieces when I moved into plants with roots. The mounting of the group’s work, which Linda Roche and I are jointly curating and hanging, has been quite a job! My Technical Assistant, Mo, has been essential once more, constructing a fake wall to hang the pictures on.

And as a constant refrain, the branches for mistletoe plants for Kaipara Coast, take shape. Almost ready to assemble!

Once again I was drawn to this plant because of environmental challenges which threaten its existence.

The New Zealand mistletoes are a mix of epiphyte and parasite. They are, apart from one, only found on one type of tree. Reduction in forest and in bird numbers has meant huge reductions in mistletoe numbers as it needs a bird to eat the berries, and then poop out the seed onto a branch of the right type of tree. Only a few specimens of those varieties are still found. The one I have based my work on (but not its colour!) is Ileostylus micranthus, which is much less fussy about where it grows, even taking hold on exotic trees. Even so, I have never seen one and they are quite limited to particular areas.  “Kiss Kiss” will , I hope, draw attention to the need for forest which is large and dense enough that such plants will continue to thrive along with the fauna that are a vital part of the ecosystem. The mistletoe clusters will be placed inside a wee shelter, down in the forest area at the beautiful Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens (


The giant mangroves are coming

The mangroves which I first made a year ago were the seed from which have grown a pair of giant mangroves, two metres high on their arching legs, for the Harbourview Sculpture Trail which will open on March 5th.
This project has been an adventure in new material and skills. Many thanks to Jeff Thomson, sculptor extraordinaire in metal, for his help in assembling the steel frames of these creatures.


At home I built up a layered surface – first wire netting, to give the skeleton some “body”, and then a skin of plastics melted together. Stitching, ironing and the hot air gun were all applied to a range of plastics. Some melted almost way, shrinking in the heat, and others intensified in colour and stayed bright and whole.
Plastics fill our landfills and drift along the shoreline catching in mangroves and other intertidal plants. We need to address the issue of plastic waste – recycle what can be recycled (and there is a lot more that can be recycled now including soft plastics) and use other plastics sensibly! I am grateful to Vaughan at Polyprint Packaging who took the time to show me the process of making polythene bags, and told me about some of the recycling alternatives, as well as giving me a range of colourful off-cuts and samples which were most useful.

On holiday

Carol's plums

Carol’s plums

A rolling boil

A rolling boil

Carol’s plums sit ripening on the bench – a bag bursting with them is too many to eat so I make plum jam (adding some raspberries too). While I clean out the pots cupboard (involving crawling on my belly into the back corner, reminiscent of horrid descriptions of potholing) the jam cools and the lids pop as they seal.

Five pots of jam

Five pots of jam

Too hot today to go outside though Mo makes trips to check on the monarch butterfly chrysalis action – they have abandoned the stripped swan plants and headed off to hang and then do their amazing transformation (more wonderful I think than when they hatch out as a butterfly as at that end you can already see the patterns of the wings through the case).

Supplementary feeding

Supplementary feeding

Stripped swan plants

Stripped swan plants

Hanging and hung

Hanging and hung

The month of exhibitions

This time of year is becoming associated for me with significant artistic milestones. In 2012 I was setting up my 4 pohutakawa branches, grafted onto host trees and within weeks Rob Garrett had invited me to develop similar work to take to Poland.
Almost exactly one year ago we arrived in Gdansk, a bag of knitted branches in hand, to take part in Narracje 5 – and in 2014 those branches have just completed a week at the Wellington Museum of City and Sea – this time combined into 2 small trees – as part of the 70th Anniversary celebrations of the Children of Pahiatua .

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Opening out the branches Attaching to the stake Trying out lighting

I felt so proud, especially as a non-Pole, to be invited to be a part of the Polish festival in Wellington. I felt that my artwork had achieved a wonderful completeness with this re-presentation.

After the colourful and social weekend away in Wellington it was back to the finishing touches on the little people of O Peretu ( Fort Takapuna). This last weekend I set them up in their clifftop site.

Unsettled 1

The wire leg extensions mostly slipped between remnants of bricks and rubble that for some reason had been dumped on that spot so the crowbar I’d taken was only needed once and an old screwdriver would have done. There they stand now – frozen in flight, from or towards something not explained – a story the visitor can create for themselves. Sculpture on Shore opens on Thursday this week – I can’t wait to return and have a good look at the work I just glimpsed when I was there on Sunday.

Little people

The little people have had a tough time – in keeping with legends that highlight their often difficult relationship with humans. In the name of scientific investigation they had to spend a month out in the extremes of weather which we have had since early June. This allowed much time for interesting research into the tales of sightings of fairies/hidden people (“huldra”)/little people and stories of their departure – driven away to the Western Isles, some say by science and others by Christianity. And to think about the Patupaiarehe and Ponaturi here in Aotearoa.

Weather trial start

Remarkably the paper mache both coated and unprotected stood up well to all conditions, only needing some time to dry out once I brought them inside again. After outside trial (1)
For NZ Sculpture onShore a more robust material seemed desirable, though I still like the look and feel of paper for an inside work.

First the modern equivalent of creating their coverings from their environment – plastic – waste bags and packaging – which I melted onto the armatures.

Plastic 030714 (3) Plastic 030714 (5)

Too cluttered, too literal. Instead I will cover their padded frames with “fabric mache” – just fine cotton strips dipped in PVA, a method I used to coat one of the paper figures – this keeps the final “fairy” light weight but gives them some solidity and will ensure they do not get damaged by “casual interference” (thanks for that phrase Rob Garrett!).

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They await their gradual transformation. Meanwhile the discarded paper and plastic husks are pretty interesting.

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