These Things Are Agents of the World and They Announce Themselves: The Sculptural Object in Artworks by Maddie Leach and Bianca Hester

Cunnane, Abby
Braddock, Christopher
Barnett, Cassandra
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis considers the sculptural object in artworks by Maddie Leach and Bianca Hester. Looking at the way the object is deployed in these practices has consequences for our understanding of matter and its relationship to subjectivity, which, in turn, affects our understanding of place and cultural context. Consciously situated in Aotearoa, the reading of these objects draws on two strands of thought: the work of contemporary indigenous Māori thinkers including Carl Te Hira Mika (Tuhourangi / Ngaati Whanaunga), Amiria Henare [Salmond] and Moana Jackson (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Porou), and that of feminist materialist philosophers including Donna Haraway, Karen Barad and Elizabeth Grosz.

As a Pākehā curator and writer, I argue that while these lines of thought are fundamentally different and should be acknowledged as such, it is necessary within a bicultural context to articulate a relational perspective that works between and through such differences. Objects here, in Aotearoa, read differently through the double lens of colonial presence; what does this mean for practices, such as my own, in which material objects are primary? I am not interested in simply inverting the terms of a human/object, active/passive binary, nor in seeking terms of equivalence or reconciling ontological standpoints. Rather, I undertake a shift in emphasis: a strategic foregrounding of the material object, and of Māori philosophical thought in which the material world is sovereign entity. This offers a way of thinking through the inter-relationship of things in the world, as an ecology within which humans function but do not have authority; are within, rather than omnipresent to.

Mika (quoted in the title of this thesis) suggests that in Māori philosophy, the idea that thought originates from the individuated self is both erroneous and colonising. Aligning with this position, I argue that what is able to be observed in this research is possible only through the acts of ‘disclosure’ on the part of the material world in the first instance; that admitting partial apprehension of the material thing compels re-thinking the dominant ‘knowing’ vocabulary with which objecthood is addressed.

The project is shaped as a curatorial writing practice. That is, ideas of cultural identity, materiality and the decolonisation of discourse are processed performatively through writing. The writing is approached as a material form in itself, effecting change as well as recording this process. As such it operates as a thing in the transitional sense conceived by Grosz: as a compromise between mind and matter. Rather than writing 'about', I situate the writing within a field also occupied by the objects under observation. Like the sculptural objects, the writing is a thing with its own material specificity: it produces affects, it moves us and changes things. One of the things the writing changes is my own subjectivity.

The research returns to a question paraphrased from Grosz’s essay “The Thing”: What are the significances of acknowledging the thing as the condition and resource for the subject’s being and enduring? What happens when we attempt to address the material object and its effects as primary, as culturally located, and with a different set of conditions and possibilities to those of people-centred acts of making and interpretation?

Agents , Things , Artworks , Maddie Leach , Bianca Hester
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